Hurricane Beryl Kicks Off 2018 Hurricane Season

Beryl started off as a tropical depression and within 18 hours was classified as a hurricane. By now, Beryl is  a Category 1 Hurricane heading for the Lesser Antilles.

What does that mean?

Hurricane categories

Hurricanes are sorted into categories, from Category 1 to Category 5. Hurricane Maria was a Category 5 hurricane that dipped to Category 4 as it hit Puerto Rico.

The main metric for deciding on a storm’s category is wind speed. Below 74 miles an hour, a storm is just a storm. Beryl hit 80 miles an hour early Friday, with gusts up to 100 miles an hour.

But calling Beryl a small or Category 1 hurricane doesn’t mean there won’t be damage if she makes landfall. Even a small hurricane is a dangerous storm.

  • Category 1 storms don’t usually damage stable structures or buildings. They can turn over a trailer and knock down a weak tree. Poorly built homes may lose their roofs. There is likely to be flooding along the coast and electrical power often goes out. People without strong shelter may lose their lives.The Guajataca dam in northern Puerto Rico remains vulnerable, and even a Category 1 storm could endanger the 70,000 people who live nearby as well as Puerto Rico’s water supply.
  • Category 2 storms damage buildings that are old or unstable. They may knock out electrical power and drinking water. Extensive flooding is likely, and they are life-threatening.
  • Category 3 hurricanes are described as “devastating.” These are major hurricanes, usually resulting in widespread flooding and damage to many buildings. Floating debris is a danger to structures, and many trees will be knocked down or uprooted. Both power and water will be out for weeks.
  • Category 4 hurricanes are considered “catastrophic.” Many buildings will be destroyed and most trees will be broken or uprooted. Power and water will be completely lost, often for many weeks.
  • Category 5 hurricanes are also considered catastrophic. Between the winds, the flooding, and the debris moving across the land, few buildings will be undamaged. Power and water may be lost for months. Evacuation is recommended.

Hurricane development

How does a tropical storm become a hurricane? It’s all about convection. If you’ve ever noticed a spinning movement in a cup of hot tea or coffee, you’ve seen convection.

Hot air or steam rises. As the air is heated, it moves upward, carrying heat with it. As the air rises, it cools, causing condensation. You’ve probably seen droplets of water on the outside of a cold glass on a hot day. That’s just what happens as the air rises.

Those droplets form clouds as the hot air rises and cools. If the air is so hot that it stays warmer than the air around it., a pattern can develop. The hot air rises and cools and moves back downward, leaving clouds as it moves. More hot air rises and does the same. This sounds circular — and it is. The air gets organized into a spinning mass of hot clouds.

If high winds hit the storm and disorganize that spinning pattern, the storm collapses and there is no hurricane. If not, and if the water temperature is hot enough to keep the hot air rising, a hurricane will develop.

Where are the Lesser Antilles?

If a hurricane collapses while it is still out in the ocean, there can be heavy rainfall and flooding, but it will be much less severe than a hurricane that makes landfall. The location and movement of a hurricane makes a big difference in its effects on people.

Puerto Rico is in the group of islands known as the Greater Antilles. The Lesser Antilles are the group of islands from the Virgin Islands to Grenada, including Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Barbados.

Will Hurricane Beryl be a dangerous hurricane?

Small hurricanes are hard to predict. The temperature of the water (which has been rising in recent years) is a big factor in the growth of tropical storms. Hurricane Maria gained phenomenal power in water that was just a few degrees hotter than normal.

In fact, Hurricane Maria went from a Category 1 to a Category 5 hurricane in just 15 hours.

On the other hand, winds higher in the air can diminish the force of a tropical storm by cutting through the hurricane winds and breaking down the organization of the storm.

As of this writing, Weather.com is saying that people living in Puerto Rico should monitor Beryl. It is expected that the storm will collapse before hitting San Juan, but heavy storms are probable.

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