Hurricane Beryl is no freak storm — it’s exactly the nightmare meteorologists predicted

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Warm water provides the energy needed for storms to grow and develop. Strong winds evaporate what little water is left of the ocean surface. This warm water vapor rises into clouds and releases its heat, which powers storms and increases hurricane intensity.

The Atlantic Ocean has been warming for the past year and a half. Sea surface temperatures have been the highest on record for nearly all of 2023 and well into 2024.

It’s not just that sea surface temperatures have risen by historic levels – the warming is also extending hundreds of metres below the surface.

Scientists use ocean heat content (OHC) to measure the depth of heat moving through the ocean. A hurricane’s intense winds stir up the ocean and force cold water from the bottom to rise to the surface, leaving colder water behind after the storm.

High OHC values ​​limit the amount of cooling left behind by the storm, allowing the ocean to more easily absorb subsequent high-level storms.

OHC values ​​across the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean are well above normal for this time of summer, and are unlikely to change significantly even as the peak of the season approaches.

All this potential energy is what has meteorologists very concerned about the remainder of hurricane season. Both NOAA and Colorado State University have issued aggressive seasonal forecasts, predicting more than two dozen named tropical storms this year.

Experts knew this year was likely to see a catastrophic storm. What’s surprising is that Beryl formed so quickly. This early storm could serve as an omen for any storms that may form later this year.

Image may contain nature outdoor storm and tornado

Courtesy of NOAA

Water temperature is only one part of the equation. A tropical cyclone is an extraordinarily delicate structure that requires a vigorous and organized storm, low wind shear, ample moisture in the atmosphere and few obstacles in its path to grow into a formidable beast.

Many of these elements are expected to be present this hurricane season as forecasters monitor the possibility of a La Niña developing later this summer. La Niña patterns can make conditions more favorable for Atlantic hurricanes by reducing wind shear in the region.

Experts are concerned not just about the number of storms expected this year, but also about their nature. Beryl has proven that any storm that develops in a favorable environment can make its name in the record books using exceptionally warm waters. Any one of the many storms expected this season could become a devastating hurricane, requiring extra attention and preparation.

People living along or near the coast should use the early lull of hurricane season to prepare for anything that may come their way this summer. Make sure you have an emergency kit filled with supplies to deal with long-lasting utility outages. If your area is told to evacuate before a hurricane, make a plan for what to do and where to go.

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