Get ready for another busy hurricane season in 2021.
The first major forecast of the season calls for 17 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes, according to Colorado State University research scientist Phil Klotzbach, one of the world’s top hurricane forecasters.
It is the sixth year in a row that what forecasters call an above-average season has been predicted for the Atlantic. The 30-year average is 12 named storms and six hurricanes.
This year there is a 69 percent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall in the U.S., according to the Colorado State University forecast.
There is a 45 percent chance one could strike Florida or the east coast, and a 44 percent of landfall anywhere from the Florida Panhandle to Texas along the Gulf Coast.
Hurricane season starts June 1, peaks in September and ends Nov. 30. But in recent years storms have formed before and after that traditional window.
Klotzbach announced Colorado State University’s annual forecast during an online presentation Thursday. The forecast is not as intense as what the Atlantic experienced during the historic 2020 storm season — when scientists’ prediction of an “extremely active” season proved catastrophically true — but is worrisome for regions still recovering from last year’s rapid barrage of storms.
He said the same factors in play last year will influence this coming storm season: warmer subtropical Atlantic waters and the absence of El Niño will make conditions favorable for storm development.
“Hurricanes live off of warm ocean water,” he said, “so more warm ocean water means more fuel for the hurricanes.”
El Niño is a Pacific phenomenon that warms the waters there, creating strong wind shear over the tropical Atlantic which can disrupt storm formation. Its opposing weather pattern is La Niña, which is caused by cooler waters in the central and eastern Pacific and in turn significantly limits Atlantic wind shear.
The absence of El Niño and the appearance of La Niña improves the chances of Atlantic hurricane formation and intensification. An active La Niña is largely blamed for the hyperactive end to the 2020 storm season, when two Category 5 hurricanes formed in November.
“It’s the reason the end of the 2020 hurricane season was just so, so active,” Klotzbach said. “We had much less shear at the end of the season, combined with extremely warm waters, especially in the Caribbean.”
This year, though, Klotzbach predicts that the Pacific will remain either in La Niña phase or shift to a neutral pattern, which would make it less conducive for storms to develop late in the year.
Conditions for this hurricane season are nearly identical to five past seasons: 1996, 2001, 2008, 2011 and 2017. Those seasons are called analog years by forecasters, Klotzbach said. Of the quintet, the most named storms were the 17 that formed in 2011; the most hurricanes that formed were 10 in 2017, including the deadly storms Maria and Irma.
Meteorologists always warn that regardless of how many hurricanes form, it takes just one to cause massive loss of life and damage.
The historic 2020 Atlantic season saw extreme loss of life and damage. It became the most active season on record, with 30 named storms, 13 hurricanes and six major hurricanes. Storms formed early and fast, breaking records every week.
For the first time, five named storms occupied the Atlantic at the same time. The United States was hit by 12 named storms — the most in 104 years — and six were hurricanes.
More than 400 people died in 2020 storms — most of the casualties occurred in Central America — and more than $51 billion in damages was inflicted, making it the fifth costliest on record. However, no major storm reached Florida’s shores.
Colorado State’s forecast is similar to the March 31 outlook issued by the private forecasting service AccuWeather. That outlook calls for a total of 16 to 20 named storms and a total of seven to 10 hurricanes.
The next major forecast will come in mid-May from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This year the agency will issue twice-daily tropical weather outlooks on May 15 — two weeks earlier than in the past — reflecting the early formation of storms in the past six Mays. Colorado State will issue updated hurricane forecasts on June 3, July 8 and Aug. 5.
The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season will be Ana.
2021 Hurricane Names