ST. THOMAS — Beryl officially became the first hurricane of the 2018 season Friday, though forecasters predict it’s likely to weaken before it arrives.
Beryl was a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale Friday afternoon, with sustained winds of about 80 mph, according to NOAA’s National Hurricane Center. The storm is not expected to begin impacting the territory until late Sunday or early Monday.
Most projected paths compiled by the South Florida Water Management District — which aggregates numerous available hurricane models to forecast possible storm trajectories — have the storm passing well south of the territory.
Territorial officials were urging residents — some of whom live in structures still showing signs of damage from the 2017 hurricanes — to evaluate their residences and consider sheltering with family members or loved ones if they had concerns about their safety.
V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Mona Barnes said her agency has been coordinating with Federal Coordinating Officer William Vogel and is monitoring the storm’s progress as it moves west. She said she had been in communication with the National Weather Service throughout the day Friday.
Local and federal officials are evaluating the availability of hurricane essentials, such as additional blue tarps and commodities, Barnes said.
“Their forecast is that it’s going to go to the south of us,” she said. “That would be great. We might see some rain and some light winds.”
Nevertheless, VITEMA officials are asking the public to evaluate their own situations, given the damage from Irma and Maria.
“The one thing we are asking folks in the territory right now is to assess their present condition as far as sheltering,” she said. “They can shelter in place with a friend or loved one.”
Even a Category 1 hurricane could be potentially life-threatening in a compromised shelter, Barnes said.
“You know that a Category 1 hurricane can have winds be anywhere from 74 to 95 miles per hour,” she said.
Given the widespread damage from Irma and Maria, officials are urging residents to plan above the multiple days of water and food usually recommended for hurricane season, Barnes said. That includes securing loose boards or other elements of structures in the territory, she said.
Monitoring the storm counted toward the five-day action period Barnes announced in Senate hearing’s earlier this year, said Deputy VITEMA Director Denise Lewis. Beryl has not yet proposed enough of a threat for the agency to consider evacuations, as detailed in Barnes’ prior testimony, Lewis said.
“Not at all,” she said, when asked whether Beryl is enough of a danger to trigger considerations of evacuation.
The Coast Guard has set port condition Whiskey at all ports in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico effective 8 p.m. Friday. The port condition means gale-force winds are expected in the next 72 hours.
Several Caribbean islands had issued advisories associated with Beryl on Friday. Officials had placed Dominica under a Hurricane Watch. Guadeloupe, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy had all been placed under Tropical Storm watches.
The watches were issued out of an abundance of caution, wrote Hurricane Specialist Robbie Berg in the tropical weather discussion section of a public advisory, issued at 5 p.m. on Friday.
“Given the larger-than-normal uncertainties associated with Beryl’s future track and intensity, the governments and meteorological services of several of the countries in the Lesser Antilles have elected to issue tropical storm or hurricane watches for their islands, sooner than the typical 48-hour threshold for the onset of tropical-storm-force winds,” Berg wrote.
Additional watches could lie ahead, Berg said.
Beryl’s relatively small size makes forecasters less certain of its future behavior, Berg wrote.
“Rapid changes in intensity, both up and down, that are difficult to predict are possible during the next couple of days,” he wrote.