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'Total devastation': Hurricane Beryl plows its way into history as it strikes Grenada

A satellite image shows Hurricane Beryl about 3:40 p.m. Monday with sustained winds of 150 mph after it crossed Carriacou Island in Granada
A satellite image shows Hurricane Beryl about 3:40 p.m. Monday with sustained winds of 150 mph after it crossed Carriacou Island in Granada

Update: The National Hurricane Center upgraded Beryl to a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane at 11 p.m. Monday after detecting sustained winds of 160 mph, making it the earliest Cat 5 storm on record in the Atlantic. By 5 a.m. Tuesday, winds had climbed to 165 mph.

Hurricane Beryl plowed its way into history over the weekend after it more than doubled its wind speed in less than 24 hours to become the earliest Category 4 storm on record as it took aim at Grenada in the eastern Caribbean.

Beryl made landfall on Grenada's Carriacou island Monday morning with 150 mile per hour winds and nine feet of storm surge. In Miami, Grenadian community leaders say relatives there told them the hurricane was as bad or worse than any the country has seen.

“In Carriacou, it was total devastation and destruction," said Elizabeth Allick of the Grenada Cultural Assocation of South Florida. "They’re expecting it to be flattened. They’re already preparing to erect temporary housing and get emergency supplies to the people.”

The quickly blossoming storm does not bode well for a season already forecast to be above average.

“To the ocean, it feels like we are already at the peak of hurricane season,” said Michael Lowry, a hurricane specialist at WPLG-TV and former senior scientist with the National Hurricane Center. “The water temperatures right now, in the first week of June, are as warm as they typically are in late August and September.”

READ MORE: Hurricane Beryl makes landfall with 150 mph winds on Caribbean island

Atmospheric conditions favored Beryl: upper atmospheric wind shear that can knock off the tops of cyclones was slower than average, Lowry said. But the hot water turbo charged it.

“Not just at the surface, but we see a very deep reservoir of ocean waters that Beryl was able to tap into,” Lowry said. “The hurricane strengthened over the weekend, from 65 mph in 24 hours. That nearly doubles the threshold for what meteorologists define or call rapid intensification.”

Most storms that undergo rapid intensification — about 45 percent —happen months from now, in September, Lowry said, when waters are typically as hot as they are now.

Climate change heating the planet and oceans has set the stage for these more dangerous, short fuse storms that give emergency managers less time to warn the public. Last summer, an ocean heat wave sparked widespread bleaching on coral reefs that also killed sponges and damaged other marine lift.

Beryl now beats a record previously held by Hurricane Dennis in 2005, Lowry said.

Dennis became a tropical depression on July 4 more than 600 miles to the northwest of Grenada. Winds increased 50 mph in just under 24 hours, then jumped to 150 mph the next morning. After sliding past Jamaica, Dennis slammed into Cuba twice. In the Gulf of Mexico, it underwent a second rapid intensification and restrengthened to a Cat 4 hurricane, but was knocked back by dry air before hitting the Florida panhandle. The storm caused 42 direct deathsin its path and about $2.5 billion in damage in the U.S.

In addition to fierce winds, the center of Beryl underwent an eyewall replacement early Monday that can expand the reach of the storm. Beryl nearly doubled in size, from hurricane winds that extended just 30 miles from the center to 40 miles.

READ MORE: How an eddy in the Gulf of Mexico could supercharge hurricanes in a busy season

Allick of the Grenada Cultural Association of South Florida in Miami pointed out Beryl will be especially devastating for Grenada because hurricanes of that magnitude usually pass to the north of the island nation.

“We’re not used to it," she said. "It's very rare for hurricanes to come down" to the latitude where Grenada sits. "So we usually consider it a very safe zone.”

As it moves across the Caribbean, forecasters said Monday morning that Beryl could weaken slightly as it encounters more wind shear, but will still remain a dangerous hurricane. It may impact Jamaica on Wednesday and later Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast between 17 and 25 named storms, eight to 13 hurricanes and four to seven major hurricanes, like Beryl.

In mid June, Tropical Storm Alberto formed in the Gulf for three days before making landfall near Tampico, Mexico and falling apart. Chris formed as tropical depression Sunday and strengthened to a tropical storm before dissipating Monday morning.

Those who want to help the Grenadian relief effort can contact the Grenada Cultural Association at 305-776-1751.

Jenny Staletovich is WLRN's Environment Editor. She has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years. Contact Jenny at jstaletovich@wlrnnews.org
Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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