July 24, 2024

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How Record-End Hurricane Beryl Is a Sign of Global Warming

How Record-End Hurricane Beryl Is a Sign of Global Warming
Comment on the photo, Hurricane Beryl devastates St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Hurricane Beryl wreaks havoc across parts of the Caribbean – highlighting the role of climate change.

With maximum sustained wind speeds exceeding 160 mph (257 km/h), it became the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane in records dating back about 100 years.

In fact, there has only been one previous recorded instance of a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane in July – Hurricane Emily, on July 16, 2005.

The causes of individual storms are complex, making it difficult to attribute specific cases to climate change.

  • author, Mark Pointing
  • Role, Climate Correspondent

But exceptionally high sea surface temperatures are the main reason why Hurricane Beryl was so strong.

Such strong storms usually develop later in the season, after sea temperatures have warmed during the summer.

Hurricanes generally need sea surface temperatures of at least 27 degrees Celsius to have a chance to develop. As the map below shows, the waters along Beryl’s path were much warmer than that.

All other things being equal, warmer seas mean more powerful hurricanes, because storms can gain more energy, allowing for higher wind speeds.

“We know that as the planet warms, we also warm the sea surface,” says Andra Garner, an assistant professor at Rowan University in the US.

“We know that warm ocean water is a major fuel source for hurricanes.”

This is when the Atlantic hurricane season is typically at its most active, as sea levels are typically at their highest at the end of summer.

This is illustrated by the chart below, where the dot represents a major hurricane between 1940 and 2024. As you can see, most major hurricanes occur in late August and September, and hurricanes that occur before that are very rare.

The number of hurricanes has not increased, but a greater proportion of them are expected to reach the highest categories globally as temperatures rise.

“Although it is uncertain to what extent climate change contributed to the early formation of Hurricane Beryl, our climate models suggest that the average intensity of hurricanes will increase in the future due to increasing global warming,” explains Hiroyuki Murakami, a research scientist at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

Another factor to consider this year is regional weather patterns.

El Niño prevents strong hurricanes from forming in the Atlantic Ocean, due to its effect on winds in the atmosphere. The opposite phase, known as La Niña, helps hurricanes develop in the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently, there are “neutral” conditions – neither El Niño nor La Niña. But La Niña conditions are expected later this year.

This potential shift – as well as warmer sea temperatures during July and August – has led to concerns that more powerful hurricanes could form later in the season.

Video comment, WATCH: Union Island resident explains impact of Hurricane Beryl

Rapid condensation

Meteorologists and climatologists also noted how quickly Hurricane Beryl was strengthening.

It took just 42 hours to go from a tropical depression — with maximum sustained wind speeds of 38 mph or less — to a major hurricane (i.e., above 111 mph).

What makes Beryl particularly remarkable is that it […] It rapidly intensified from a tropical depression to a hurricane. [of any Atlantic hurricane in June or early July]“Explains Shui Chen, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington:

Hurricane Beryl is an example of “rapid intensification” – where maximum wind speeds increase very quickly. It can be especially dangerous because communities have less time to prepare.

“Although Beryl is unprecedented, it is actually very much in line with the types of extreme events we would expect in a warmer climate,” says Dr. Garner.

“As the planet warms, we are essentially ‘setting a set of extreme events against ourselves, making events like Hurricane Beryl not only possible, but more likely.”

“It is up to us to reduce our emissions to change this story.”

Drawings by Erwin Revolt