Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2021. 9:03 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: Forecasters at Colorado State University led by Dr. Phil Klotzbach say there is a six in ten chance of an active 2021 hurricane season in the Atlantic, coming off the most active in living memory.
The Weather Channel says that while exact numbers of storms and hurricanes cannot yet be easily predicted, climatologists are looking at some of the key drivers of hurricane activity to be better able to make such predictions.
Dr. Klotzbach named two such drivers as the status of El Niño Southern Oscillation (or ENSO) and changes in north Atlantic water temperature.
Simply put, cooled ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean correspond with warmer temperatures which support more storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic. This pattern is known as La Niña. Its counterpart, El Niño, reverses the trend with hotter conditions in the Pacific over the Atlantic.
Most modeling suggests that the Pacific will gradually warm through this preparation season and into the first half of hurricane season. By the time hurricane season heats up, in July, August and September water temperatures should be warm enough to be considered at least neutral.
The other factor that Klotzbach thinks is fundamental to the busyness of the upcoming hurricane season is how warm waters are in the Atlantic. For the last quarter-century, water temperatures have been running naturally above average at the height of a cycle called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). Over an average of 60 years, between 25 and 35 years are above average and the rest are considerably reduced.
The last five seasons have been very busy, so enhanced AMO may continue, but there is always the chance of a cooling off in a year or two. A feature known as the Bermuda High is responsible for steering tropical waves off Africa into the Caribbean and toward the United States; “If you have a lot of pressure that is higher than normal in the subtropics, that tends to favor stronger winds blowing across the tropical Atlantic that then causes cooling relative to average,” says Klotzbach. Cooler water temperatures in this area are less favorable for the development of tropical waves. This phenomenon is something that the CSU team begins to figure out in February and March. Also, the slower the Bermuda High rotates, the slower tropical systems move westward and the more likely they are to develop and intensify.
Typically, in a given hurricane season we will see around 13 named tropical storms and 7 hurricanes. Klotzbach also says that the record-breaking 2020 season has little bearing on how 2021 will go. He says that an El Niño event can knock down storm activity even after a busy season. A more detailed forecast is expected in April.
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