Tropical Storm Bret is expected to hit the Lesser Antilles on Thursday with strong winds and heavy rain of up to 10 inches in some locations, the National Hurricane Center said.
Bret formed on Monday as the second named storm of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, and by Thursday morning it was about 250 miles east of Barbados, moving west at 16 miles per hour toward the tropical Atlantic. Bret was expected to bring strong winds and heavy rainfall to portions of the Lesser Antilles on Thursday, the Hurricane Center said.
The storm also had maximum sustained winds were near 70 m.p.h. with higher gusts.
The storm had initially been forecast to become the first hurricane of the 2023 Atlantic season and is expected to be near hurricane strength when it blows into some eastern Caribbean islands on Thursday.
A tropical storm watch was in effect for Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the center said. Dominica and Martinique were under a tropical storm warning while St. Lucia was under a hurricane watch.
The storm is forecast to reach portions of the Lesser Antilles on Thursday afternoon and evening and then begin weakening in the eastern Caribbean Sea, where it will likely dissipate on Saturday.
The storm may bring the risk of flooding from heavy rainfall, strong winds and dangerous waves, the center said. Forecasters urged anyone in the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to closely monitor the storm and be prepared.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica shared disaster preparedness tips, urging residents to stay alert during heavy rainfall and to “be ready to move to a safe area if rising water is observed.”
The Barbados Meteorological Services also warned residents of possible flash flooding in low-lying districts.
The storm’s track is uncertain, though, and it is unclear which islands could expect to receive the worst impact. Rain, strong winds and storm surges could happen in the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Rain is expected through Saturday. About three to six inches with maximum amounts up to 10 inches are anticipated across parts of the Lesser Antilles, extending from Guadeloupe to as far south as St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Another storm system similar to Bret is following on its heels and may develop into Cindy, the season’s third named storm, later this week. Tropical storms earn a name once they have sustained winds of 39 m.p.h. Once winds reach 74 m.p.h., a storm becomes a hurricane, and at 111 m.p.h. it becomes a major hurricane.
Bret is the third tropical cyclone to reach tropical storm strength this year. The National Hurricane Center said in May that it had reassessed a storm that formed off the northeastern United States in mid-January and determined that it was a subtropical storm, making it the Atlantic’s first cyclone of the year. However, the storm was not retroactively given a name, making Arlene, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico on June 2, the first named storm in the Atlantic basin this year.
The Atlantic hurricane season started on June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
In late May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that there would be 12 to 17 named storms this year, a “near-normal” amount. There were 14 named storms last year, after two extremely busy Atlantic hurricane seasons in which forecasters ran out of names and had to resort to backup lists. (In 2020, there were a record 30 named storms.)
However, the NOAA did not express a great deal of certainty in its forecast this year, saying there was a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, a 30 percent chance of an above-normal season and a 30 percent chance of a below-normal season.
There were indications of above-average ocean temperatures in the Atlantic, which could fuel storms, and the potential for an above-normal West African monsoon. The monsoon season produces storm activity that can lead to some of the more powerful and longer-lasting Atlantic storms.
This year also features El Niño, which arrived this month. The intermittent climate phenomenon can have wide-ranging effects on weather around the world, including a reduction in the number of Atlantic hurricanes.
In the Atlantic, El Niño increases the amount of wind shear, or the change in wind speed and direction from the ocean or land surface into the atmosphere. Hurricanes need a calm environment to form, and the instability caused by increased wind shear makes those conditions less likely. (El Niño has the opposite effect in the Pacific, reducing the amount of wind shear.) Even in average or below-average years, there is a chance that a powerful storm will make landfall.
As global warming worsens, that chance increases. There is solid consensus among scientists that hurricanes are becoming more powerful because of climate change. Although there might not be more named storms overall, the likelihood of major hurricanes is increasing.
Climate change is also affecting the amount of rain that storms can produce. In a warming world, the air can hold more moisture, which means a named storm can hold and produce more rainfall, like Hurricane Harvey did in Texas in 2017, when some areas received more than 40 inches of rain in less than 48 hours.
Researchers have also found that storms have slowed down, sitting over areas for longer, over the past few decades.
Other potential effects of climate change include greater storm surge, rapid intensification and a broader reach of tropical systems.
Eduardo Medina, Rebecca Carballo, Johnny Diaz Orlando Mayorquin, Livia Albeck-Ripka and Derrick Bryson Taylor contributed reporting.