As Jamaica braces for a direct hit, relief efforts have begun for islands shattered by Hurricane Beryl

Feature image via Canva Pro.

The 2024 Atlantic hurricane season had barely begun when Hurricane Beryl proved itself, in many ways, to be unprecedented. It reared its head earlier than most major storms tend to do, it gained power quickly, being upgraded to a Category 3 and then Cat 4 system within a mere 48 hours and, having left a trail of destruction through the Grenadines — including at least six deaths — it became the strongest storm on record this early in the season, briefly turning into a Category 5 hurricane. As at 9:00 p.m. (UTC4) on July 2, it has reverted to a Cat 4 as it headed towards Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

While weather experts and storm chasers may be fascinated by Beryl's exceptionality, the people of the Caribbean who have been routinely battered on the frontline of the annual hurricane season fear that all the factors that make Beryl stand out may, in fact, become the norm.

Scientists have said that warmer sea temperatures, driven by climate change and cyclical weather patterns, are causing tropical storms to get stronger at a faster speed.

This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States predicted an 85 percent chance of greater storm activity than normal — as many as 17 to 25 total named storms, of which anywhere from eight to 13 might become hurricanes, and four to seven of those, major hurricanes, meaning Category 3-5. They credit this to a “confluence of factors,” including “abundant oceanic heat content,” “a quick transition to La Niña conditions,” reduced Atlantic trade winds and less wind shear.

“[L]ight trade winds,” NOAA explained, “allow hurricanes to grow in strength without the disruption of strong wind shear, and also minimize ocean cooling.” It confirmed that the climate crisis “is warming our ocean globally and in the Atlantic basin, and melting ice on land, leading to sea level rise,” which it said represented “a clear human influence on the damage potential from a given hurricane.”

Like The Bahamas, Dominica, and so many other islands before them in years gone by, Barbados, Tobago, St. Lucia, Grenada, and especially the Grenadines which have thus far weathered most of the impact from Beryl, know this all too well — and just as they have done before, the Caribbean community has been rallying to send relief and much-needed supplies to those affected.

From St. Vincent, photographer Nadia Huggins shared a link to a GoFundMe page, saying, “I have no words to express the scale of devastation. I can’t believe we have to fund raise for yet another disaster. Please help in any way you can.” Looking at the “near apocalyptic” images coming out of Union Island, or video of the storm's aftermath in Carriacou, you begin to understand the urgency.

Meanwhile, Jamaica braces for Beryl to make landfall as a Category 4 storm, expected to happen by Wednesday, July 3, with the eye passing over the Cayman Islands later that night or early Thursday.

Global Voices contributor Emma Lewis, who is based in Jamaica, says that her compatriots are feeling stressed by the storm's impending arrival, and traffic has been bad as people try to stock up on supplies or make last-minute repairs:

Like most Caribbean territories, Jamaica has endured devastation from hurricanes like Gilbert, a Cat 3 that struck in September 1988. While Beryl will likely weaken after it hits Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, it is still expected to remain a hurricane as it makes it way across the northwestern Caribbean. In this vein, hurricane watches are in effect for southern Haiti, tropical storm warnings for the south coast of the Dominican Republic, and a tropical storm watch for parts of Belize.

With a long and potentially active hurricane season ahead, and regional leaders calling out the lack of action on the part of developed nations that largely contribute to the global levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the overriding sentiment of the region was encapsulated in a tweet by Greenpeace:

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