Posted: Wednesday, March 31, 2021. 9:09 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: AccuWeather forecasters suggest an “above-average” hurricane season in 2021, not as busy as the historic 2020 season which saw 30 named storms, 13 hurricanes, and six major hurricanes strike all around the region.
This year’s prediction is for between 16-20 named storms, including between seven to 10 hurricanes and between three to five are predicted to become major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher storms that have maximum sustained winds of 111 mph or greater). A normal season according to the 30-year average between 1991 and 2020, as measured by University of Miami researcher Brian McNoldy, calls for 14 storms, seven hurricanes, and three major hurricanes
Factors measured by the AccuWeather team include the presence of the existing La Niña pattern to shift to an El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-neutral phase by the late spring or early summer which means water temperatures in this zone of the Pacific will be closer to average. When the water in the equatorial Pacific is warmer than average, an El Niño is typically declared. When the reverse is true, it’s known as a La Niña.
The big question at this time is whether or not the pattern shifts back to a La Niña by the latter part of the hurricane season, according to lead AccuWeather meteorologist Dan Kottlowski.
According to Kottlowski, sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) are above normal in the northern and central Gulf of Mexico. Waters in much of the Caribbean and tropical Atlantic are also warmer than normal or around normal.
The official start date to the Atlantic season is June 1, but in recent years, named storms have become common in May and even as early as April. Kottlowski said that based on current trends and the warm waters in the primary tropical breeding grounds of the Atlantic, he expects a “higher-than-normal” chance of a preseason storm to develop this year.
“Our biggest concern is the fact that water temperatures across the Atlantic are already warmer than normal over a larger part of the basin,” Kottlowski said, adding that it won’t take much to make those water temperatures go even higher through the summer and into the peak of the season.
Since 2010, seven Atlantic hurricane seasons have had at least one storm form before the June 1 start date. The last season without any preseason tropical development was 2014.
Because of this trend of frequent preseason storms, the National Hurricane Center is considering moving the official start date to May 15 in future years.
While there are still two months to go until the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, Kottlowski says now is the time for residents of hurricane-prone regions to formulate a hurricane safety plan and study up on evacuation routes and nearby shelters.
It doesn’t take a major hurricane to cause life-altering damage to a person’s property. Even a slow-moving tropical storm has the potential to dump feet of rain and trigger life-threatening flooding.
The season doesn’t officially end until November 30 and 2020 is a good reminder of that. Hurricanes Delta and Zeta both struck the Louisiana coast last October. However, tropical activity persisted all the way into mid-November last season, as Central America was struck by two major hurricanes, Eta and Iota, within the span of two weeks.
“Please educate yourself now,” Kottlowski said when asked what message was important to convey to people living in hurricane-prone locations.
“Another issue that we will face still is the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “This is still going to cause major concerns for evacuation centers. Don’t wait until August or September, during the heart of the hurricane season, to figure out what you’re going to do. The time is now for you to plan.”
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