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Hurricane Beryl hits the Yucatan; a Texas landfall expected Monday » Yale Climate Connections

Hurricane Beryl made landfall near Tulum on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula at 7:05 a.m. EDT Friday as a category 2 storm with 110 mph winds and a central pressure of 975 mb. Near the time of landfall, a Weatherflow station at Xcaret Park reported sustained winds of 59 mph, gusting to 81 mph. Beryl was a compact storm at landfall, and the southern position of the circulation had very little heavy thunderstorm activity or strong winds. A weather station at Sian Ka’an Qro, located about 10 miles to the southeast of where the center hit, recorded top sustained winds of just 5 mph Friday morning.

The northern portion of the hurricane was stronger. Cancun International Airport, located about 65 miles northeast of the landfall location, recorded top winds of 33 mph, gusting to 48 mph, at 9:18 a.m. EDT Friday. Isla Mujeres, an island just off the coast from Cancun, reported sustained winds of 44 mph, gusting to 55 mph, at 7:05 a.m. EDT. Storm chaser Josh Morgerman (iCyclone) reported very little wind damage near where the center of Beryl hit (see Tweet below).

As noted by Michael Lowry in his latest Substack post, Beryl is the strongest hurricane to strike near the resort areas of Cozumel, Cancun, and Tulum since Hurricane Delta in October 2020. Hurricane Emily in 2005 was the last major (Category 3 or stronger) hurricane to strike these areas, and Hurricane Dean in 2007 was the last Category 3 or stronger hurricane to hit anywhere on the Yucatán Peninsula.

Passage over land has weakened Beryl considerably. At 11 a.m. EDT Friday, Beryl was a category 1 storm with 85 mph winds and a central pressure of 980 mb, located on the Yucatan Peninsula about 680 miles east-southeast of Brownsville, Texas, headed west-northwest at 16 mph. The National Hurricane Center stated that Storm Surge, Hurricane, and Tropical Storm Watches will likely be issued later Friday for northeastern Mexico and the lower and middle Texas coast.

Beryl continuing to exceed expectations

Beryl has consistently overachieved, keeping its intensity at the high end of model expectations, and the hurricane’s behavior prior to landfall in the Yucatan was no exception. Despite experiencing high wind shear of at least 20 knots for more than a day, Beryl briefly intensified to a category 3 storm with 115 mph winds on Thursday night, before dry air and wind shear fortunately caused the hurricane to deteriorate rather rapidly at the time of landfall (it’s possible Beryl was considerably weaker than the 110-mph landfall intensity assigned by NHC).

Beryl’s unexpected strength on approach to the Yucatan allowed the hurricane to edge to the north of its predicted track, which increases the danger to Texas early next week. The more northward path also means Beryl will spend less time over land than previously predicted, allowing it to remain stronger. And as Beryl enters the Gulf of Mexico and begins to feel the steering influence of a trough of low pressure over the central U.S., a stronger storm will feel a more northward pull from this trough, since stronger hurricanes are taller and respond more to the upper-level winds. This makes it likely that Beryl will make landfall in Texas rather than northeastern Mexico, as was originally anticipated.

Beryl has shrunk considerably in size over the past two days, and small storms are more able to rapidly intensify than large ones. Conditions in the Gulf of Mexico are predicted to be very favorable for intensification, with wind shear decreasing to a light 5-10 knots by Sunday, along with very warm sea surface temperatures of 29-30 degrees Celsius (84-86°F), and a moderately moist atmosphere. There is some dry air to the southwest of Beryl that will likely inhibit intensification, though, and the total heat energy of the ocean waters in the southwestern Gulf is much lower than what Beryl had to work with in the western Caribbean – mostly around 40 kJ/cm^2, compared to as high as 150 kJ/cm^2 near Jamaica.

Intensity forecast

The official NHC forecast from 11 a.m. EDT Friday calls for Beryl to make landfall in Texas Monday morning as an intensifying high-end category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds. However, this intensity forecast has large uncertainty. As of Friday morning (6Z), NOAA’s four hurricane-tailored intensity models showed a variety of possibilities for Beryl. The weakest solution was from the HMON model, which predicted a faster-moving storm with less time over water to intensify, with landfall as a strong tropical storm early Monday morning with 65 mph winds in an ideal location, sparsely populated Padre Island National Seashore. The strongest forecast was from the HAFS-A model, which predicted Beryl would hit the same region Monday morning as a major category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds. Location of landfall will be critical – if Beryl hits as a major hurricane, damage will be in the billions if landfall occurs near heavy populated Corpus Christi, but perhaps less than $100 million if landfall occurs on Padre Island National Seashore.

Since Beryl will start out as a relatively small and weak tropical storm over the Gulf of Mexico, it will not be able to pile up a huge storm surge. Wind damage and flooding from heavy rains will be the main damaging threat from the storm. Torrential rains (perhaps a foot or more locally) will likely spread into southwest and central Texas and northeastern Mexico late Sunday and Monday. High surf and rip currents can be expected to develop well north of Beryl along the western U.S. Gulf Coast this holiday weekend.

The Gulf of Mexico is notorious for breeding rapidly intensifying hurricanes, and we should not be surprised if Beryl overachieves (again!) and makes landfall in Texas on Monday as a rapidly intensifying major hurricane. We present below multiple examples of hurricanes that unexpectedly rapidly intensified in the Gulf, including Hurricane Harvey of 2017 and Hurricane Humberto of 2007. Beryl could also underachieve, though, and make landfall in Texas as a tropical storm – such is the state of modern hurricane intensity forecasting.

Beryl and Harvey: Parallels and differences

Any approach from Beryl will be unsettling for millions of Texans scarred by the catastrophic experience with 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. That storm – the first major U.S. landfall in nearly 12 years, and the biggest rain-producer in U.S. hurricane history – kicked off what’s been a brutal and immensely expensive few years of disastrous Atlantic hurricanes for the United States. Here are a few aspects that the setup for Beryl does and does not have in common with the setup for Harvey.

Reorganization in the Gulf: After it weakened from tropical storm to tropical wave in the central Caribbean on August 19, 2017, Harvey wasn’t even tracked as a tropical cyclone by the National Hurricane Center until four days later. But after passing over the Yucatan, Harvey’s remnants quickly regrouped, vaulting from a minimal tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane in only 48 hours before making landfall just north of Corpus Christi. Beryl is expected to move off the Yucatan with more of a head start than Harvey did, most likely as a tropical storm, although it will take time for Beryl’s circulation to reconsolidate and an inner core to reform. We’ll have a better idea how these factors are playing out by Saturday.

Potential to restrengthen: Harvey took advantage of light to moderate wind shear, very warm sea surface temperatures around 30°C (86°F), a moist upper-level environment, and a patch of high oceanic heat content: 75-100 kJ/cm^2 within a broader area of 50-75 kJ/cm^2. At first, Beryl will encounter stronger upper-level winds than Harvey did, which may give Beryl somewhat more shear overall than Harvey. The lowest shear (down from 15-20 knots to around 5-10 knots) is predicted to be on Sunday, in the crucial 24 hours or so before Beryl reaches the Texas coast.

The extraordinarily high oceanic heat content over the Caribbean helped Beryl to outcompete substantial wind shear. In the western Gulf, Beryl will traverse sea surface temperatures similar to those that Harvey encountered in August, and it will have almost as much oceanic heat content to draw from the western Gulf as Harvey did: widespread 50-75 kJ/cm^2. However, Beryl appears likely to stay west of a small warm eddy not unlike the one that Harvey moved atop (see Figure 1; be sure to note the differences in color on the legends).

Figure 1. Comparison of oceanic heat content along the forecast tracks of Harvey (top) and Beryl (bottom). Note the differences in color tables between the two plots. Image credit: RAMMB@CSU/CIRA (top), CIMSS/SSEC/University of Wisconsin-Madison (bottom)

Rainfall: Harvey was left stranded along and near the Texas coast for three days as steering currents collapsed. In contrast, models are in strong agreement that a broad upper trough in the central U.S. will pull Beryl north and northeastward across Texas from Monday into Tuesday. There is no sign in models of the type of multi-day stalling behavior that Harvey exhibited. That said, Beryl could still be a prodigious rain-maker with a corridor of at least 4 to 8 inches likely and localized totals of 12” or more, providing some drought relief but also potential flood threats to vulnerable areas.

One specific concern is Lake Livingston Dam, on a reservoir about 80 miles east of Houston that provides the majority of the city’s water. This dam was placed under a “potential failure watch” by the Trinity River Authority on June 28 following weeks of heavy rain. The agency reported no immediate danger of a failure or breach as of Tuesday while repairs proceeded. On Thursday, based on satellite imagery, a London-based firm reported detecting “significant deformation” of two areas of the dam.

Timing: Harvey struck in mid-August, whereas Beryl is approaching on the long Fourth of July weekend – not a time when Texans are typically thinking “hurricane”. The fairly rapid shift of Beryl’s sights toward Texas while many people are on holiday could add stress and complication to the warning-and-response effort for Beryl.

Figure 2. Radar image of Hurricane Humberto of 2007 on September 13, 2007, shortly after landfall. (Image credit: NWS Lake Charles)

Hurricane Humberto (2007)

Another possible analogue storm to Beryl is Hurricane Humberto, which hit High Island, Texas (about 60 miles east-southeast of Houston) on September 13, 2007, as a Category 1 storm with 90 mph winds. Humberto underwent the most rapid increase in intensification in the 24 hours before landfall of any Atlantic hurricane since at least 1950: an astonishing 65 mph. A mere 18 hours before landfall, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) predicted a landfall intensity of just 45 mph, increasing its forecast estimate to 65 mph six hours later, which was still 25 mph too low. It’s fortunate that Humberto was not a stronger system, as the lack of adequate warning could have led to serious losses of life. Humberto was a very small hurricane — the kind that can change intensity very quickly — and damage was low for a hurricane: about $80 million (2024 USD). It appears that Beryl will be a larger storm than Humberto was, and thus not able to rapidly intensify to such an extreme degree.

Other rapid intensifiers that have slammed Texas include Hurricane Alicia of 1983, which raked the Houston area, and Hurricane Celia of 1970, which struck the mid-Texas coast. Alicia took 36 hours to intensify from a tropical storm with 70 mph winds to a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds. During that time, the pressure dropped from 998 mb to 963 mb. Alicia killed 21 people and caused $1.7 billion in damage (1983 USD.) Celia took twelve hours to intensify from a Category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds to a Category 3 hurricane with 125 mph winds just before landfall, killing 27 and causing $930 million in damage (1970 USD.)

For more coverage of Beryl, we recommend The Eyewall, written by Texas-based editors Matt Lanza and Eric Berger.

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