Beryl will strengthen as it approaches Texas due to warm ocean temperatures

Beryl will strengthen as it approaches Texas due to warm ocean temperatures

With its record-breaking passage through the ultra-warm waters of the southeastern Caribbean, Beryl made meteorologists’ worst fears about an accelerated hurricane season a stark reality. Now it’s Texas’ turn.

Beryl struck Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 2 hurricane on Friday, then weakened to a tropical storm. It is expected to reach southern Texas Sunday night or Monday morning, regaining hurricane status as it crosses the warm Gulf of Mexico.

National Hurricane Center senior hurricane specialist Jack Beven said Beryl is likely to make landfall somewhere between Brownsville and a little north of Corpus Christi on Monday. The hurricane center is forecasting it will hit as a strong Category 1 storm, but wrote that “this could be prudent if Beryl stays over water longer” than expected.

The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are warm enough to allow the early-season storm to intensify quickly, as has happened several times before.

“We shouldn’t be surprised if it intensifies rapidly before landfall and becomes a major hurricane,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground and a former government hurricane forecaster who flew into storms. “It may be more likely to become a Category 2 hurricane, but we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of it becoming a Category 3 hurricane.”

Beven said the official forecast calls for Beryl to gain between 17 and 23 mph in wind speeds within 24 hours, but noted that the storm intensified more quickly than forecasters had previously expected in the Caribbean.

“People in South Texas now need to keep a close eye on Beryl’s progress,” Beven said.

Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami and a teacher of the subject, said hurricane center forecasters have been very accurate in predicting Beryl’s path so far.

Already three times in her week of life, Beryl has gained 35 mph in wind speeds in 24 hours or less, the weather service’s official definition of rapid intensification.

The storm went from 35 mph to 75 mph on June 28. It went from 80 mph to 115 mph in the overnight hours of June 29-30, and on July 1 it went from 120 mph to 155 mph in just 15 hours, according to hurricane center records.

Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University using a different tracking system, said he counted eight separate periods when Beryl intensified rapidly, something that has only happened in the Atlantic in July on two other occasions.

Kerry Emanuel, a meteorology professor at MIT, doesn’t give Beryl “much chance” of another 35 mph wind speed increase in the Gulf of Mexico, but said it’s a difficult thing to forecast.

Beryl’s explosive growth into a record-breaking early, massive storm shows the literal warm water the Atlantic and Caribbean are in right now and the figurative warm water the Atlantic hurricane belt can expect for the remainder of the storm season, experts said.

The storm broke several records even before its hurricane-force winds approached Grenada’s Carriacou Island on Monday.

Beryl set the record for the earliest Category 4 storm, with winds of at least 130 mph (209 kilometers per hour), the first Category 4 in June. It was also the earliest storm to rapidly intensify, with winds reaching 63 mph (102 km/h) within 24 hours, going from an unnamed depression to a Category 4 in 48 hours.

Klotzbach of Colorado State University called Beryl a pioneer.

Meteorologists predicted months ago that it would be a nasty year, and now they are comparing it to the eventful year of 1933 and the deadly year of 2005, the year of Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Dennis.

“This is the type of storm we’re expecting this year, these atypical things that happen when and where they shouldn’t,” said McNoldy of the University of Miami. “Not only do they form and intensify and reach higher intensities, but they increase the likelihood of rapid intensification.”

Warm water acts as fuel for thunderstorms and the clouds that form hurricanes. The warmer the water, and therefore the air, at the base of the storm, the greater the chance it will rise higher in the atmosphere and create deeper thunderstorms, said Kristen Corbosiero of the University at Albany.

“So when you get all that thermal energy, you can expect some fireworks,” Masters said.

Atlantic waters have seen record warming since April 2023. Klotzbach said a high-pressure system that normally generates cooling trade winds collapsed then and has not returned.

Corbosiero said scientists are debating what exactly climate change does to hurricanes, but have agreed that it makes them more likely to intensify quickly, as Beryl did, and to make storms stronger, like Beryl.

Emanuel said the slowing of Atlantic ocean currents, likely caused by climate change, may also be a factor in warming waters.

The development of La Niña, a slight cooling of the Pacific that changes the climate around the world, could also be a factor. Experts say La Niña tends to reduce the high-altitude crosswinds that decapitate hurricanes.

Isabella O’Malley contributed from Philadelphia.

Seth Borenstein has been covering hurricanes for nearly 35 years.

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