Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Record-breaking temperatures strengthen Hurricane Beryl as it hits Caribbean


Hurricane Beryl, the first hurricane of the 2024 Atlantic season, has made history as the earliest storm to reach the highest ranking of Category 5, before weakening to Category 4 as it heads towards Jamaica. Driven by record-breaking sea temperatures linked to human-caused climate change and cyclical weather patterns, Beryl is a harbinger of what scientists predict will be a very dangerous hurricane season.
Understanding category 5 hurricanes
Category 5 is the most severe classification on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, characterized by winds of 157 mph (252 kph) or higher. These hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage, including the complete destruction of homes and infrastructure. Since 1960, only 30 Atlantic hurricanes have reached Category 5, with 2005 holding the record for the most Category 5 hurricanes in a single season, including the infamous Hurricane Katrina.
The unprecedented early arrival of Beryl
According to the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization, Beryl is the earliest Category 5 hurricane on record in the Atlantic. Anne-Claire Fontaine, a scientific officer for the agency, attributes Beryl’s early development to the Main Development Region (MDR) experiencing its warmest ever temperatures. Scientists point to the streak of record temperatures in the North Atlantic since early last year as highly unlikely without the influence of climate change driven by man-made fossil fuel emissions. Warm ocean temperatures, which are necessary for the intensification of tropical storms, are currently hovering around 29.4°C (85°F) in the north Caribbean coastal waters.
Beryl’s projected path
Beryl is expected to impact Jamaica on Wednesday, potentially bringing up to 12 inches (30 cm) of rain, and could affect the Dominican Republic and Haiti along the southern coast of Hispaniola. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness has urged residents to reinforce their homes and stock up on essentials. In Haiti, the situation is particularly dire for those displaced by ongoing gang conflicts. The Cayman Islands, Belize, and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and Gulf coast are also in Beryl’s current path, though hurricanes typically weaken over land.
Historical context and potential impact
Beryl is the strongest storm to threaten the southeastern Caribbean in two decades, reminiscent of 2004’s Hurricane Ivan, which caused extensive damage across the region. Beryl has already caused significant disruption, including the destruction of fishing boats in Barbados, power outages in St. Lucia, and reported fatalities in Grenada and St. Vincent. As Beryl approaches Jamaica as a Category 4 storm, the potential for severe damage remains high.
Call for international support
In anticipation of a highly destructive hurricane season, Caribbean leaders are advocating for improved financing options to better protect their populations from the effects of climate change. These nations have long called on wealthy countries and major polluters to meet their emissions targets, provide climate adaptation funds, and consider debt relief. However, a recent investigation revealed that much of the climate aid intended for developing countries has been redirected to wealthy nations.
The Atlantic hurricane season
The Atlantic hurricane season, which typically spans from June to November, is a period when tropical storms are most likely to form, driven by warm seas, humidity, and strong ocean breezes. The Main Development Region (MDR), a stretch of warm water from West Africa to the Caribbean and parts of Central and North America, is particularly prone to storm formation. On average, a season produces 14 named storms, of which seven become hurricanes and three become major hurricanes. However, with ocean temperatures reaching new highs, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has forecast an “extraordinary” 2024 season with 17 to 25 named storms, eight to 13 hurricanes, and four to seven major hurricanes.

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