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Why Beryl is an early sign of a particularly dangerous hurricane season

When Hurricane Beryl strengthened into the Atlantic Ocean’s earliest Category 5 storm on record, it did so some two months ahead of the heart of hurricane season.

More storms typically form and intensify by August and September because that’s when Atlantic waters are warmest, loaded with storm-fueling energy from a summer of sunshine. But Beryl strengthened in Caribbean waters that were as hot as they normally are in mid-September, just as the calendar turned to July.

Its record-shattering intensification, occurring earlier in the year than any storm before it, is an early sign of the historically stormy year scientists have been warning about. Off-the-charts warmth that has dominated Atlantic waters for more than a year was a key factor in early seasonal forecasts — and was integral to Beryl’s extraordinary development.

In the United States, officials closely watching the forecast said the storm stirred a sense of urgency. And in the Caribbean, the storm prompted immediate calls for action on climate change. Human burning of fossil fuels has warmed the planet about 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) over the past 150 years, and along with a recent episode of the planet-warming El Niño climate pattern, has pushed the world’s oceans to dramatic and sustained warmth since early 2023.

Beryl is “clear and overwhelming evidence of the fact that we are constantly facing an existential threat to our way of life,” said Dickon Mitchell, the prime minister of Grenada. He called on other nations to “move past the talking” and help island dwellers weather the “ever-present threat that they have created.”

Not all storms will become behemoths like Beryl over the next few months, meteorologists said, stressing that short-lived meteorological conditions can dampen storm activity, or instigate it. But the hurricane has underscored the ways the stage is set for other storms to undergo similarly explosive development.

Another warning of what may come: Many of the records Beryl is breaking were set in 2005, a year of unprecedented hurricane frequency and of devastating storms such as Hurricane Katrina.

“All signs are hinting that this season is going to rival 2005,” said Ben Kirtman, director of the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami.

Conditions are ‘far more conducive than normal’ for hurricanes

Beryl is an extraordinary storm for not only how early it intensified, but also where. In previous years, early storm activity in the area where this one developed has been a reliable indicator of a busy hurricane season, said Philip Klotzbach, who studies hurricanes at Colorado State University.

When it strengthened into a Category 4 storm, Beryl was in the middle of the tropical Atlantic. At this time of year in that part of the ocean — an area at the center of what is known as the main development region for hurricanes — cyclones rarely organize or strengthen much until they move farther west or north. That’s because relatively cool waters, an abundance of Saharan dust or dry air all tend to limit early-season storm activity anywhere east of the longitude of places such as the Bahamas, Cuba and Jamaica, Klotzbach said.

But none of those factors stopped Beryl. It shows that “environmental conditions are far more conducive than normal” for hurricanes, Klotzbach said.

Beryl strengthened into Category 4 a week earlier than any storm of that strength ever observed, breaking a record set by Hurricane Dennis in the hyperactive 2005 storm season. It also became the fastest-strengthening storm on record before the month of September.

This kind of early-season activity in the area is a strong predictor of a large tally of tropical storms by late fall, he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in May predicted 17 to 25 tropical storms would form in the Atlantic basin this year — approaching the record 27 named storms that developed in 2005.

Beryl continues churning through the Caribbean Sea, and its long-term track is uncertain. Still, the hurricane prompted coastal U.S. residents to prepare.

In Texas, Galveston County officials urged residents to stay alert: “Although there is uncertainty in the Beryl’s path when it reaches the Gulf, this is certainly the season to stay vigilant and prepared,” they wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

And authorities farther from the storm’s path nonetheless used Beryl as an opportunity to stress caution. In Pinellas County, Fla., Emergency Management Director Cathie Perkins said dire hurricane season forecasts have prompted hundreds of people to attend community expos on hurricane risks in recent weeks. Now, Beryl is a reminder of how quickly a storm can intensify from a tropical storm to a…

Read More: Why Beryl is an early sign of a particularly dangerous hurricane season

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