Beryl weakens to tropical storm, but Puerto Rico, Caribbean on alert

Puerto Ricans rush to prepare as storm nears Caribbean
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Hurricane Beryl was east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles, a group of islands between the U.S. Virgin Islands and Grenada.

The year’s first Atlantic hurricane weakened Saturday morning into a tropical storm, but Caribbean islands struck by last year’s devastating hurricanes are still on alert.

Beryl remained very small, moving west-northwest at 17 mph with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, shy of Category 1 status, according to an advisory issued at 5 p.m. ET by the National Hurricane Center.

Though the storm’s intensity could still fluctuate unpredictably, its chances of regaining hurricane strength before reaching the Lesser Antilles, the arc of islands from the US Virgin Islands to Grenada, have dropped significantly, CNN meteorologists said.

Beryl is due to reach that zone sometime late Sunday, the hurricane center said, at which point it’s likely to weaken into a tropical depression.

Later Monday the storm is expected to head south of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, whipping the island with minimal tropical storm-force winds as it continues to weaken.

Still, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello has declared a state of emergency for the island that is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricanes Maria and Irma last year.

“While we don’t expect a direct hit to take place on Puerto Rico, even some of those outer bands … have the potential to knock out power” on the US territory, where Maria triggered months of power outages, CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar said.

Rossello encouraged residents living in homes with roofs covered by blue tarps to find refuge in shelters or family members’ homes.

‘People are very aware’

News of Beryl’s approach has been enough for Puerto Ricans to flock to stores to stock up on water and dry goods.

Frances Colon, a Miami resident who is on the island for a wedding, shared a photo Friday morning of a line of people that spread to the parking lot of a Costco in the city of Bayamón.

“People are very aware, and they want to be prepared,” Colon said.

Weather watches were in effect at 11 a.m. ET Saturday, along Beryl’s expected path.

A tropical storm warning was in place in Dominica, replacing an earlier hurricane watch, and Guadeloupe. Tropical storm watches were in place in Barbados, St. Lucia, Martinique, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Saba and St. Eustatius, according to the hurricane center.

Earlier, the hurricane center had described the storm as “Tiny Beryl” because of “its very small size.” Tropical storm-force winds by Saturday evening extended as far as 45 miles from the storm’s center.

Storm brewing off the Carolina coast

Meanwhile, another storm, Tropical Depression 3, is crawling over the Atlantic about 150 miles off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The storm is forecast to strengthen in coming days and could become a tropical storm Saturday night or Sunday, the hurricane center said Saturday morning.

No watches or warnings for that storm have been issued. A forecast model shows the storm wouldn’t approach land until Wednesday, when it could skirt Nova Scotia before impacting Newfoundland on Thursday. Both are in Canada.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, and peaks from mid-August to late-October.

The year’s first named storm, Alberto, hit in late May. It made landfall on the Florida Panhandle as a subtropical storm and ushered drenching rains across states in the South and Midwest. At least five people died in incidents related to that storm.