Beryl, the first major storm of the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season, has the Caribbean's Windward Islands in its sights

ABI imagery of Hurricane Beryl from NOAA's GOES-16 Satellite, June 28, 2024 via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain.

Every year, from the beginning of June to the end of November, the Caribbean is on tenterhooks as the Atlantic hurricane season unfolds. The region, after all, has suffered devastating storms, which seem to have become more frequent and more intense as the climate crisis continues. This year, on Friday, June 28, an early-season weather system began to form in the southern Atlantic; two days later, Beryl had morphed into the most quickly organised Category 4 hurricane on record.

With some calling the fast formation “unprecedented,” “anomalous,” and “absurd,” just as unusual was the location in which Beryl materialised — an atypical trajectory that is fascinating weather experts:

Storm systems very rarely form so low down in the Atlantic basin — and when they do, more often than not, they peter out.

The twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago, therefore, deemed to be situated outside of the hurricane belt, has largely been spared the destruction other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nations have faced from storms over the past few years. forecasters have taken “the fact that Beryl not only became a tropical storm, but rapidly developed into a major hurricane east of the Lesser Antilles this early” as a warning sign for the rest of this year's hurricane season.

Sustained winds are currently hovering around a dangerous 130 miles per hour (215 km per hour), with occasional higher gusts. Hurricane warnings have been issued for the islands of Barbados, Tobago, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Lucia. There is a tropical storm warning in effect for Martinique, while Dominica — still recovering from 2017's Hurricane Maria — and Trinidad remain under tropical storm watch.

On July 28, Prime Minister Mia Mottley warned Barbadians that they would likely be impacted by the storm; at the time of her address, Beryl had been forecast to be no more than a Category 1 system.

At noon on June 30, Trinidad and Tobago government ministers, along with representatives from the Meteorological Office and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM) hosted a press conference to help citizens better prepare for the storm's impact. On X (formerly Twitter), Minister of Finance Colm Imbert also advised that Trinidad and Tobago has been working to accommodate an influx of vessels in search of safe harbour into its waters:

By 2:00 p.m. (UTC-4) on June 30, the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, confirmed that the “extremely dangerous” Cat 4 storm was approaching the Windwards, with “life-threatening winds and storm surge” expected from early on July 1. The update also suggested that “interests elsewhere in the Lesser Antilles, Hispaniola, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and the remainder of the northwestern Caribbean should closely monitor the progress of Beryl.”

At the time of the update, the eye was located near 10.9 degrees north latitude and 55.6 degrees west longitude. Beryl is expected to remain strong as it moves west-northwestward across the Windwards by Monday morning and across the southeastern and central Caribbean Sea late Monday through Wednesday.

Hurricane-force winds are estimated to extend outward for up to 30 miles (45 km) from Beryl's centre, while tropical storm-level winds may extend outward for up to 115 miles (185 km).

At least one tropical meteorology researcher, the University of Miami's Brian McNoldy, has attributed Beryl's swift escalation to warm ocean temperatures, which he said were the highest on record for this time of year — even warmer than they would generally be at the peak of the hurricane season in September.

Experts have been predicting that the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season would be one of the worst on record, thanks to the combination of La Niña conditions in the Pacific, warmer waters, reduced Atlantic trade winds and less wind gradient.

In the islands that lie in the storm's path, there have been long lines at grocery stores as people stock up on supplies. The demand has been even higher in Barbados, which hosted the final of the T20 Cricket World Cup on Saturday, flooding the island with thousands of visitors. The island's airport will be closed from 7:00 p.m. on June 30, until further notice.

On Facebook, Donna Reece, a Trinidadian who is visiting Barbados, posted photos of the calm before the storm, with waters on the island's west coast looking flat as glass. In northern Trinidad, which is expected to face tropical storm-force winds, the air is still, with nary a ruffle of wind and birds intermittently chirping in the tensely restrained way they do when they sense bad weather.

Even as some social media users were focused on “hurricane history” being made, Caribbean netizens were feeling deeply anxious:

Meanwhile, all the Caribbean can do is prepare as much as possible and wait, like sitting ducks:

It is a sentiment Caribbean citizens have heard far too often. With the next COP meeting scheduled for Baku in November, the region wants far more than wishes — it wants action.

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