Beryl, the first hurricane of the 2024 Atlantic season, is rapidly approaching the Caribbean

Beryl is the first hurricane of the 2024 Atlantic season, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph with stronger gusts, according to a 5 p.m. EST update from the National Hurricane Center.

The hurricane is located about 720 miles east-southeast of Barbados, moving west at 22 mph, and is expected to continue to strengthen before reaching the Windwards Islands early Monday. Beryl is now the first rapidly intensifying storm of the year, having accelerated from 35 mph to 75 mph in less than 24 hours. Rapid intensification is defined as a wind increase of 30 knots (35 mph) or more in a 24 hour period.

The center warned earlier on Saturday that the storm was likely to develop into a “dangerous major hurricane” as it approaches the Windward Islands Sunday night or Monday.

It brings a risk of heavy rainfall, hurricane-force winds and dangerous storm surge and waves to the central and western Caribbean.

“Beryl is expected to rapidly strengthen and be a major hurricane when it reaches the Windward Islands late Sunday night or Monday, bringing destructive hurricane-force winds and life-threatening storm surge,” warns the center.

The hurricane’s early arrival is unusual: the average date for the first hurricane is August 11. The storm has been intensified by exceptionally warm ocean temperatures, driven by planet-warming fossil fuel pollution.

Beryl could lash parts of the Lesser Antilles – the arching chain of islands that form a broken barrier between the open Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea – by the end of the weekend. A hurricane warning is in effect for Barbados and hurricane watches have been issued for St Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada. Tropical storm watches have been issued for Martinique and Tobago.

The storm is also worth monitoring for those with interests along the US and Mexico Gulf coasts, but it will take a few days to sort out exactly where it will go or how strong it will be. More clarity should come once it is in the Caribbean Sea early next week.

It’s rare for tropical systems to form and track east of the Lesser Antilles in June. That this formed so early in the season – and in this part of the Atlantic – is a sign of the hyperactive hurricane season to come, according to research from Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane expert and research scientist at Colorado State University.

Normally, ocean temperatures aren’t warm enough in this region in June and July to help tropical systems thrive. That’s hardly the case this year, and one of the reasons behind record-high hurricane season forecasts over the past few months. Ocean temperatures remain close to the off-the-chart highs being set this time last year in the area where the storm is tracking through and are currently at levels more commonly found in August and September.

“Beryl has found an environment with very warm ocean waters for this time of year,” Dr. Mike Brennan, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center, told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield Saturday.

“These are ocean waters you’d normally see like in August or September, but now we’re seeing them in late June,” Brennan said. “It’s kind of opening up more of the deep tropical Atlantic for formation before we get to what would be the traditional peak of the hurricane season.”

It’s a small slice of a bigger problem. Ocean temperatures across the globe and the Atlantic were record warm for over a year, driven upward by planet-warming fossil fuel pollution and in part by El Niño.

This system is not alone. There are two other areas being monitored by the National Hurricane Center for development, including one in the same area of the Atlantic where this system formed and another in the southwest Gulf of Mexico.

Both have low odds of developing over the next week, but given the unusual early season action and favorable ocean temperatures, they will have to be watched closely.

The NHC is forecasting above-normal activity this year with 17 to 25 named storms – eight to 13 hurricanes, as well as four to seven major hurricanes. “That’s well above average,” Brennan noted.

Caribbean islands urge public to make preparations as hurricane gains strength

As the hurricane continues to rapidly strengthen, countries likely to be affected are urging their residents to take precautionary measures.

Officials in Barbados say the island is expected to feel the impact of the storm as early as late Sunday night. Its meteorological service is anticipating storm-force winds, 3 to 6 inches of rain, “hazardous” marine conditions, and severe thunderstorms that may interrupt power utilities.

“All the regular preparations that we do for a hurricane is in full swing,” Minister of Home Affairs and Information Wilfred Abrahams said in a message to the public. “We have less than 48 hours until we expect to see the effects of this system impacting Barbados. Please use the time very wisely.”

In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves warns that the storm could hit the islands by Monday morning as a Category 2 hurricane. The meteorological service forecasts sustained winds of 74 to 110 mph (119 to 177 kmh) or greater and rainfall of 4 to 6 inches.

“Kingstown is going to be flooded once this hurricane is on track,” Gonsalves said of the capital city. “Normally, two inches of rain – sustained rain – in a relatively short period of time will flood the city. Four inches will undoubtedly flood the city.”

In Saint Lucia, the government warns that the storm could bring “moderate to heavy showers, thunderstorms, and gusty winds” to the region. Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre is advising residents to make necessary preparations and review their family emergency plans.

In Grenada, the National Disaster Management Agency is also urging residents to prepare by having disaster supplies kits, trimming overhanging trees and branches, clearing drains and knowing where their emergency shelters are located.

CNN’s Amanda Musa and Zoe Sottile, Allison Chinchar, and Sara Smart contributed to this report.

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