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Hurricane Beryl is expected to become a Category 4 storm as it approaches the southeastern Caribbean

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Beryl is expected to strengthen into a powerful Category 4 storm as it approaches the southeastern Caribbean, a situation that began Sunday after government officials urged residents to seek shelter.

Hurricane warnings were in effect for Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The center of Beryl is expected to pass about 112 kilometers south of Barbados on Monday morning, said Sabu Best, director of the Barbados Weather Service.

“This is a very serious situation for the Leeward Islands,” warned the National Hurricane Center in Miami, saying Beryl “will bring life-threatening winds and storm surge.”

Beryl strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane on Sunday morning and was the first major hurricane east of the Lesser Antilles recorded in June, according to Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University.

Beryl is only the third Category 3 hurricane recorded in the Atlantic in June, after Audrey in 1957 and Alma in 1966, said hurricane specialist and storm surge expert Michael Lowry.

“Beryl is an extremely dangerous and rare hurricane for this time of year in this area,” he said in a telephone interview. “Unusual is an understatement. Beryl is already a historic hurricane and it hasn’t struck yet.”

Hurricane Ivan was the last strongest hurricane to hit the southeastern Caribbean in 2004, causing catastrophic damage in Grenada as a Category 3 storm.

“So this is a serious threat, a very serious threat,” Lowry said of Beryl.

Beryl was located about 420 miles (675 kilometers) east-southeast of Barbados. It was a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph (185 km/h) and was moving west at 21 mph (33 km/h). It was expected to pass just south of Barbados early Monday and then move into the Caribbean as a major hurricane toward Jamaica. It is expected to weaken by midweek, but will still remain a hurricane as it moves toward Mexico.

Meteorologists warned of a life-threatening storm surge of up to three meters in the areas where Beryl will make landfall and of rainfall of up to 15 centimeters on Barbados and the surrounding islands.

Long lines formed outside gas stations and grocery stores in Barbados and other islands as people rushed to prepare for a record-breaking storm that rapidly intensified from a tropical storm with 35-mile-per-hour winds on Friday to a Category 1 hurricane on Saturday.

Warm waters heated up Beryl, and ocean heat content in the deep Atlantic is at an all-time high for this time of year, according to Brian McNoldy, a tropical meteorology researcher at the University of Miami. Lowry said waters are warmer now than they were at the height of hurricane season in September.

According to Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University, Beryl marks the easternmost point a hurricane has formed in the tropical Atlantic in June, breaking a record set in 1933. If Beryl’s wind speed reaches 125 mph, it would be the second-earliest such storm on record in the Atlantic, surpassing Audrey in 1957, he said.

If Beryl also reaches Category 3, it would be only the third storm in the Caribbean to do so before August; according to Klotzbach, this happened to Dennis and Emily in July 2005.

“We must remain vigilant,” Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said in a public address late Saturday. “We do not want to endanger anyone’s life.”

Thousands of people had travelled to Barbados on Saturday for the final of the Twenty20 World Cup, cricket’s biggest event. Mottley pointed out that not all fans were able to leave on Sunday, although many rushed to rebook their flights.

“Some of them have never experienced a storm before,” she said. “We have plans to take care of them.”

Mottley said all shops would have to close by Sunday evening and warned that the airport would be closed overnight.

Kemar Saffrey, chairman of a Barbadian group working to end homelessness, said in a video posted on social media on Saturday night that homeless people tend to believe they can weather storms because they have done so before.

“I don’t want them to take that approach,” he said, warning that Beryl is a dangerous storm and urging Barbadians to move homeless people to emergency shelters.

His comments were echoed by Wilfred Abrahams, Minister of Home Affairs and Information.

“I need Barbadians to protect their brothers now,” he said. “Some people are vulnerable.”

Meanwhile, St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre announced a nationwide curfew for Sunday evening and said schools and businesses would remain closed on Monday.

“Preserving and protecting life is a priority,” he said.

Caribbean policymakers were preparing not only for Beryl, but also for a series of thunderstorms in the hurricane’s wake that had a 70% chance of developing into a tropical depression.

“Don’t let your guard down,” Mottley said.

Beryl is the second named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30 and is expected to be stronger than average. Earlier this month, Tropical Storm Alberto made landfall in northeastern Mexico, bringing heavy rains that left four people dead.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that the 2024 hurricane season will be well above average, with 17 to 25 named storms. The forecast calls for up to 13 hurricanes and four major hurricanes.

An average Atlantic hurricane season produces 14 named storms, including seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

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