Beryl, a tiny, fast-moving storm, will likely be a hurricane when it reaches Caribbean islands over the weekend hit hard by Hurricane Maria last year.
In an 11 p.m. advisory, National Hurricane Center forecasters said the storm continued to intensify Friday with sustained winds reaching 80 mph. Earlier, they had expected strong wind shear to weaken the storm before it neared the Lesser Antilles. But it now looks like Beryl will maintain hurricane strength as it crosses the islands late Sunday or early Monday, they said.
Because the storm is so small — hurricane force winds extend just 10 miles from the storm's center — forecasters said it's too soon to tell what islands may get hit. By late afternoon, however, several islands were already bracing for potential strikes. Dominica was under a hurricane watch and several surrounding islands issued tropical storm watches, with the strong winds possible by Sunday evening.
A potential impact on Puerto Rico, still recovering after Maria's devastation, remained unclear. With the storm tracking a bit more to the south than expected, the NHC slightly shifted the cone away from the island, but that could change over the next few days. The projected wind speeds also came down a tad to an expected peak at 90 mph in two days, but forecasters stressed there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding Beryl.
At 11 p.m. Friday, Beryl was located about 890 miles east, southeast of the Lesser Antilles, moving west at 14 mph. Over the weekend, it's expected to speed up.
The storm should begin to weaken once it reaches the eastern Caribbean on Monday. However, forecasters warned that may not occur in time to spare the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where storms often trigger dangerous mudslides and flash flooding.
Because the storm is so small, forecasters say they've been less certain about their projections. Small storms can morph quickly — Beryl flared up from a depression Thursday morning to a hurricane in less than 24 hours. The storms can just as quickly lose steam.
For the next day or so, forecasters say low wind shear will likely allow Beryl to continue strengthening, at least until it nears Hispaniola.
Beryl is the easternmost hurricane to form from an African wave in July on record, according to University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. Storms forming in the southern Caribbean, where waters are warmer, are far more common.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Martin Vassolo contributed reporting