Forecasters from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are predicting another Atlantic hurricane season this year, but the season will likely not reach the record level of activity we saw in 2020.
Forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center predict a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season and a 10% chance of a below-normal season, according to its 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook released Thursday. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 3.
For 2021, NOAA expects a likely range of 13 to 20 named storms (where winds are 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (74+ mph), including 3 to 5 major hurricanes (Cat 3 or higher, i.e., 111+ mph). NOAA noted a 70% in the forecast.
“Now is the time for coastal and inland communities to prepare for the dangers hurricanes can bring,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. “NOAA experts are prepared to provide communities with early warnings and life-saving forecasts, which will also help minimize the economic impacts of storms.”
Last month, NOAA updated its statistics to reflect higher hurricane season averages based on the most recent 30-year weather record, which spans 1991 to 2020. According to this data, an average hurricane season now produces 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes. This is up from 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes in the 1981-2010 statistics.
NOAA says last year’s record-setting season serves as a reminder to all residents in coastal regions or flood-prone areas to be prepared for the 2021 hurricane season. The 2020 season produced 30 named storms (you may remember going to the Greek alphabet named storms), of which 13 became hurricanes, including six major hurricanes. This marked the most storms on record, surpassing the previous 2005 record of 28 named storms.
“While NOAA scientists don’t expect this season to be as intense as last year’s, it only takes one storm to devastate a community,” said Ben Friedman, NOAA’s acting administrator. “National Hurricane Center forecasters are well prepared with significant updates to our computer models, emerging observational techniques and the expertise to deliver the life-saving forecasts we all depend on during this, and every, hurricane season.”
According to NOAA, the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is currently “neutral,” meaning neither El Niño nor La Niña, although it is possible that La Niña could return later in the hurricane season.
“ENSO-neutral and La Niña support conditions associated with the current era of high activity,” said Matthew Rosencrans, senior seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “Predicted warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds and an enhanced West African monsoon will likely be factors in this year’s overall activity.”
The official start of the Atlantic hurricane season is June 1 and runs through November 30. (NOAA)
Interestingly, NOAA will henceforth not use the Greek alphabet for named storms after the initial 21 names on the list were exhausted by decision of the World Meteorological Organization, as Greek alphabet names have been deemed too confusing for the general public and “create a distraction” in communicating hazards and storm warnings. Additional storms will take names from an alternative list of names approved by the WMO.