Screenshot of IMERG animation of Hurricane Beryl

Beryl Becomes the First Major 2024 Atlantic Hurricane

On the morning of Sunday, June 30, Hurricane Beryl became a rare early season major hurricane when it reached Category 3 status with sustained winds of 115 mph as it was moving across the Atlantic 420 miles east-southeast of Barbados in the direction of the Leeward Islands.  Then, just a few hours later at 11:35 a.m. EDT, Beryl became the earliest Category 4 hurricane on record in the Atlantic with sustained winds reported at 130 mph by the National Hurricane Center (NHC), surpassing Hurricane Dennis from the epic 2005 Atlantic hurricane season.  Beryl also became historic as the strongest and easternmost hurricane and major hurricane in June in the Atlantic.   
Beryl originated from a tropical wave of low pressure that moved off the coast of Africa on June 22.  Known as African Easterly Waves (AEWs), these waves typically move westward from Africa across the tropical Atlantic and into the Caribbean at semi-regular intervals and can serve as seedlings for tropical storms and hurricanes.  However, what makes Beryl unusual is that it formed from an AEW so early in the season.  Beryl formed in what is known as the “main development region or MDR”, which is located between 10 and 20o N and 20 and 60o W or in the tropical Atlantic between the west coast of Africa and the lesser Antilles.  Storms forming here are also known as “Cape Verde storms”.  Normally, this part of the Atlantic doesn’t become active until the middle of hurricane season (i.e., August and September).  However, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are currently running anywhere from 1 to 2.5o C above average over nearly the entire MDR as well as across nearly the entire Caribbean.


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This animation shows surface rainfall estimates from NASA’s IMERG precipitation product associated with Beryl from its formation in the central Atlantic, across the Caribbean and Yucatan, and over the western Gulf of Mexico and into Texas.  Credit: NASA

After the tropical wave that was to become Beryl moved off the coast of Africa on June 22 and westward out into the Atlantic, its associated shower and thunderstorm activity continued to increase and organize over the next few days.  On the afternoon of Friday, June 28, NHC determined that the system had developed a well-organized center with ample convective banding to be classified as a tropical depression (TD #2).  Beryl was then quickly upgraded to a tropical storm later that night with sustained winds estimated at 40 mph.  The next morning, after continuing to become better organized, Beryl was in a favorable environment to further intensify, which is exactly what happened with the compact storm quickly responding to the low wind shear and warm SSTs in the form of continued active deep thunderstorm activity, which lowered the central pressure and allowed Beryl to become a hurricane by 5:00 p.m. EDT on June 29.  Later that evening and into the next afternoon, Beryl underwent what is known as a rapid intensification cycle, becoming a Category 2 hurricane the next morning at 5:00 a.m. EDT, then a Category 3 storm at 8:00 a.m. EDT, and finally a Category 4 storm a few hours later.  Beryl then leveled off, maintaining Category 4 intensity with sustained winds of 130 mph for the rest of the day.
At this point, as Beryl was bearing down on the Windward Islands, it began to undergo what is known as an eyewall replacement cycle wherein a new eyewall forms outside the original inner eyewall then contracts to become the new inner eyewall.  During this process, the storm may temporarily lose intensity, which is what happened to Beryl with sustained winds dropping to 120 mph during the early morning hours of Monday, July 1.  However, before reaching the Windward Islands, Beryl completed its eyewall replacement and re-intensified before making a direct hit on Carriacou Island, about 30 miles north of Grenada, at 11:10 a.m. EDT as a strong Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds reported by NHC of 150 mph.  Beryl caused widespread building, roof, tree, and electrical damage across the Windward Islands, and so far, media reports indicate it caused 3 deaths across the islands of Grenada, 3 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and 3 in Venezuela, which was impacted by Beryl’s outer rainbands.
After quickly exiting the Windward Islands, Beryl continued to encounter favorable ocean temperatures and atmospheric conditions and intensified even more, becoming a Category 5 hurricane at 11:00 p.m. EDT with sustained winds reported by NHC of 160 mph and breaking yet another historical record as the earliest Category 5 storm ever observed in the Atlantic basin.  Beryl would go on to reach a peak intensity of 165 mph sustained winds at 2:00 a.m. EDT, July 2, in the eastern Caribbean, which it maintained until later that morning when it finally began to lose some strength because of increasing wind shear.  By 11:00 p.m. EDT, Beryl’s sustained winds had dropped to 150 mph, though Beryl remained a powerful Category 4 storm as it headed west northwestward towards Jamaica.
The next day, July 3, saw Beryl continue to be affected by environmental wind shear.  However, the shear only resulted in modest weakening as Beryl moved through the central Caribbean at a brisk 18 to 20 mph.  By early that afternoon, Beryl was bearing down on Jamaica as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 140 mph.  Beryl’s track took the center just south of Jamaica with the center passing about 45 miles due south of Kingston at 2:00 p.m. EDT.  However, although the eye never made landfall, Jamaica still suffered significant damage and widespread power outages, especially along the southern coast, which was hit by the northern part of Beryl’s eyewall.  So far, 3 fatalities have been reported in Jamaica due to Beryl.  As Beryl moved away from Jamaica on the evening of June 3, its maximum sustained winds had dropped to 130 mph due to its interactions with Jamaica and ongoing westerly wind shear.
The following day, July 4, Beryl continued to slowly weaken from the persistent wind shear as it continued west northwestward toward the Yucatan Peninsula, passing about 50 miles south of Grand Cayman Island around 6:00 a.m. EDT as a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph.  There were reports of flooding and power outages but no fatalities in the Cayman Islands.  For most of the rest of the day, Beryl continued to slowly weaken as it continued its steady west-northwestward movement through the western Caribbean with maximum sustained winds decreasing to 110 mph, a strong Category 2 storm.  However, later that evening, with the storm continuing to be over very warm water of over 29o C (about 1 to 1.5o C above normal), an apparent reduction in wind shear or dry air allowed Beryl to re-strengthen such that by 9:30 p.m. EDT Beryl had regained minimal Category 3 intensity, which it maintained overnight before again weakening the next morning just before making landfall in the Yucatan.  Beryl made landfall at 6:05 a.m. EDT on the morning of July 5 on the Yucatan Peninsula near Tulum as a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds reported at 110 mph by NHC.  Beryl weakened greatly throughout the day as it made its way across the Yucatan, emerging back out into the southwestern Gulf of Mexico later that evening as a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph.  There were no reports of widespread damage nor any fatalities in Mexico.
When Beryl emerged into the Gulf on the evening of July 5, conditions were becoming favorable for intensification with plenty of warm water and lessening wind shear.  Fortunately, Beryl emerged from the Yucatan much weaker and very poorly organized with NHC reporting that the low-level center was displaced to the southwest of the upper-level circulation.  Tropical cyclones need to be organized before they can intensify, and Beryl remained weak and poorly organized overnight and throughout the day on July 6.  However, thunderstorm activity did begin to increase though it was not sustained likely due to drier air near the storm.  Beryl did start to take a more northwesterly track in response to an upper-level trough of low pressure over the central US.
Thunderstorm activity continued to be sporadic within Beryl overnight, but by mid-morning the next day on July 7, Beryl was showing signs of becoming better organized and with thunderstorm activity becoming more persistent near the center.  Beryl was now due east of Brownsville, TX about 195 miles southeast of Corpus Christi.  Over the course of the day, Beryl would continue to gradually organize; however, NHC reported that Beryl’s intensification was still somewhat inhibited by lingering dry air near the center.  Still, Beryl’s central pressure started to slowly come down over the course of the day, increasing the wind speeds, such that by 11:00 p.m. CDT Beryl had once again become a hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph.  Beryl was now due east of Corpus Christi.  The storm also now took a more northward track in response to the upper-level trough and headed north-northwest towards the central Texas Gulf coast.  Overnight, Beryl’s maximum sustained winds increased to 80 mph, but fortunately despite the favorable conditions, Beryl’s was too close to land to intensity any further and made landfall at Matagorda, TX about 85 miles south-southwest of Houston as a Category 1 storm with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph.
However, despite making landfall as a lower-end Category 1 hurricane, Beryl maintained hurricane intensity for several hours until the center reached the western suburbs of Houston around 9:00 a.m. CDT.  Beryl was still a strong tropical storm with maximum sustained winds reported at 70 mph as it moved into Houston’s outer northern suburbs.  Conroe, TX due north of Houston reported a wind gust of 81 mph.  The storm’s track and counterclockwise circulation brought some of the strongest winds directly over the city with Bush International Airport reporting sustained winds of 59 mph and Houston Hobby Airport reporting sustained winds of 58 mph.  The result has been widespread power outages with more than 2.7 million homes reported without power at some point.  The strong winds and flooding from Beryl have resulted in several fatalities in the U.S.  So far, 7 people have died in Texas and 1 in Louisiana. Of those 4 were from falling trees and 3 from drowning.

The above IMERG animation begins at 00:00 UTC 28 June (8:00 p.m. EDT, 27 June) as the AEW associated with Beryl was about to form into TD #2.  Here IMERG shows the scattered showers within the AEW becoming consolidated into TD #2.  As Beryl moves westward towards the Windward Islands and intensifies, rainbands are formed, the storm becomes more symmetric, and an eye is sometimes visible.  In the eastern Caribbean, when Beryl is at its maximum intensity, IMERG shows a persistent area of heavy rain near the center along with symmetric rain features consistent with its strong circulation.  The eye continues to be visible at times.  As Beryl, moves through the central Caribbean and weakens, IMERG shows most of the rain located north the of center.  This asymmetry reflects the persistent wind shear Beryl is undergoing.  This general asymmetry lasts through landfall in the Yucatan.  After, passing over the Yucatan, IMERG shows disjointed and weaker areas of rain in Beryl consistent with the weakened, disorganized storm.  Finally, IMERG shows Beryl trying to reorganize in the western Gulf with rain features becoming banded, more persistent, and symmetric before making landfall in Texas.  IMERG shows that the heaviest total rainfall amounts along Beryl’s path are over the western Atlantic and eastern Caribbean when Beryl was a major hurricane.  In the US, the highest rainfall totals associated with Beryl are over eastern Texas where 4 to 6 inches are estimated around and east of Houston where Beryl’s rainbands swept in from the Gulf of Mexico.  Locally higher amounts of between 10 to over 14” of rain were reported.  Beryl has also been responsible for spawning several tornadoes across Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.



Animation by Jason West (NASA GSFC, PPS, KBR)
Story by Steve Lang (SSAI / NASA GSFC)