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Hurricane Beryl, the strongest on record this early in the season, hits the Caribbean

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hurricane Beryl tore through the Windward Islands in the southeast Caribbean Sea today, and it continues to sweep north and west. The Category 4 storm is the strongest on record this early in the Atlantic hurricane season. Communities across the Caribbean are bracing themselves for what meteorologists warn could be potentially catastrophic damage. Emily Green is tracking the hurricane for NPR from her base in Mexico City. Hi, Emily.

EMILY GREEN, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: Where is the hurricane now? And tell us about the damage it's caused so far.

GREEN: So Hurricane Beryl is a Category 4 hurricane, and it made landfall in Granada's Carriacou Island this morning with 150-mile-per-hour winds. And the reports that are coming out say the damage is extreme, with entire buildings gone. Granada's prime minister said that in half an hour, the island had been flattened. But so far, there are no reports of casualties.

It's worth noting that the Windward Islands have never experienced a hurricane this strong before. The only comparable storm was a Category 3, and that was 20 years ago. Now, generally, hurricanes weaken when they make landfall. But the fear is that the relatively small size of the Windward Islands means the storm might not significantly weaken and that it could cause major damage over a wide part of the region.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about how this compares to other hurricanes.

GREEN: This storm is really breaking all kinds of records in terms of how early in the season it's come, how quickly it's intensified - and that's a big one - and also, its strength. Hurricane experts say the driving force here is rising ocean temperatures, and these temperatures have skyrocketed over the last two years. Warmer water is the source of energy for these hurricanes. Katharine Hayhoe is the chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, and she explained it to me like this.

KATHARINE HAYHOE: If you take a hair dryer to Europe and you plug it into the different current they have there, it will overheat and blow up on you. And so, essentially, we have these hurricanes, which we've always had, but now they're plugged into a much greater source of energy than they used to have. And so they are intensifying faster, getting stronger, getting more dangerous.

GREEN: And just to note, we are at the very beginning of this hurricane season. Meteorologists predict a record number of hurricanes will sweep through the Atlantic in the coming months.

SHAPIRO: Are those warmer ocean temperatures just because of climate change?

GREEN: It's really interesting. It's a mix of factors. There is climate change and the constant buildup of heat-trapping gases, and that is a big factor. But the experts I have been talking to say climate change just does not explain it all. In 2022, there was an underwater volcano eruption, and that fueled warmer temperatures. And also there was a new environmental regulation that went into effect. It prohibited ships from polluting so much. But ironically, the pollution, in some ways, kind of acted as this umbrella that reflected the sun's energy back into space. And without it, more of the sun's energy is warming the ocean waters. So it's a complicated mix of factors, but what is clear is that this jump in temperature is not normal.

SHAPIRO: And where is the storm expected to go from here?

GREEN: It's moving northwest from the Windward Islands. It looks like it'll pass just south of Haiti around 4 p.m. tomorrow, and then skim past Jamaica around midday on Wednesday. By Thursday evening, it's poised to hit Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. But the direction and strength could change at any time, and I think that all of the islands in the path are preparing for the worst.

SHAPIRO: That's Emily Green reporting from Mexico City. Thank you.

GREEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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