The 2021 hurricane season will go down in history for its tropical fecundity, exhausting the storm names list for only the third time on record before easing into a sluggish finish.
Wanda’s formation 1,000 miles west of the Azores on Halloween eve put this year in third place for cyclonic quantity behind the 30 named storms of 2020 and 2005’s 28 named storms.
It also broke a storm drought that began Oct. 5 when Sam turned post-tropical, ending an extended period of Atlantic basin quiescence not experienced during October since 2007.
Tropical meteorologists said they were surprised by the lack of storm activity in October and see little brewing in the final weeks of the season, which runs through Nov. 30.
But the atmosphere could still eke out another named storm — a development that would force the debut of the new alternative names list that replaced the use of the Greek alphabet this year. There are six rotating lists of traditional storm names. All end with the letter W and exclude Q, U, X, Y and Z because there are fewer names that start with those letters.
Adria, Braylen and Caridad lead the supplemental hurricane name list that debuted in March.
“It’s been unusually quiet given the La Niña and the Caribbean being so warm,” said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. “Having it shut down as quickly as it did is surprising because the environment is very similar to last year.”
The 2020 hurricane season had five hurricanes form in October, four of which were major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher. Tropical Storm Theta and Category 4 Iota both formed in November. Iota’s Nov. 13 spin up marked it as the strongest storm on record to form so deep into fall.
AccuWeather senior hurricane forecaster Dan Kottlowski said the weather pattern this past August and September foretold a busier than normal season. He was expecting to reach the end of the names list and beyond.
But as October unfolded, the high-level winds and a dipping jet stream introduced wind shear and drier air to the tropics that inhibited storms, he said.
“It’s good news for Floridians because it would be very, very difficult for a storm to develop in the Caribbean and come toward Florida,” Kottlowski said. “I wasn’t surprised that we had Wanda and I’ll not be surprised if we have another storm, but we will not have what we had last year. That will be impossible given the overall upper air pattern.”
Kottlowski said reaching the end of another names list is significant but tempered by the increased use of advanced technology to sniff out storms that might have been missed in the past, and the naming of sub-tropical storms, which began in 2002.
Still, with 21 named storms, including seven hurricanes, of which four were major hurricanes, the 2021 season is no shirker. An average season based on 1991-2020 norms has 13.5 named storms, including seven hurricanes, of which three are major hurricanes.
“It’s been an interesting year with a lot of short-lived pieces of junk but also 14 days of major hurricanes,” Klotzbach said. “Sam was a major hurricane for almost eight days, which is pretty rare.”
Climatologically, November is a less likely month for a land-falling storm in Florida, but the state has had its share of post Halloween tropical encounters with 11 tropical storms and two hurricanes.
The most recent was Eta, which made landfall Nov. 8, 2020 as a tropical storm on Lower Matecumbe Key. It did a loop in the Gulf of Mexico and made a second Florida landfall four days later near Cedar Key.
Probably more memorable was 1985’s Hurricane Kate, which hit near Mexico Beach four days before Thanksgiving as a Category 2 storm.
The National Hurricane Center's report on Kate notes that the atmosphere in mid-November 1985 was behaving more like late September and early October — peak times for the hurricane season. By the time Kate reached the eastern Gulf of Mexico, a frontal trough moving in from the west picked it up, sending it into Florida.
The other November hurricane to hit Florida was the 1935 storm nicknamed the Yankee because of its unusual approach from the north.
The Yankee was born near Bermuda, rode the underbelly of the Bermuda High toward the coast of the Carolinas, but was then picked up by the clockwise swoop of another high pressure system that pushed it into Miami on Nov. 4 as a Category 2 hurricane.
Another notable November storm was 1998’s Hurricane Mitch, which formed in late October in the western Caribbean. It grew to a monster Category 5 storm before hitting Honduras, then hooked around and cut across the Gulf of Mexico to make landfall near Naples as a tropical storm on Nov. 5.
Mitch slogged across the Glades and left the state near Jupiter, flooding homes from Boynton Beach to Boca Raton with relentless rain.
As of Tuesday afternoon, only Wanda stirred in the Atlantic. No new activity is expected during the next five days.
“I don’t want to pronounce the season dead because when you do that something usually forms,” said Falko Judt, a research meteorologist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “But once you get into November, the chances just drop and every day they get less and less.”
Kimberly Miller is a veteran journalist for The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA Today Network of Florida. She covers weather, climate and the environment and has a certificate in Weather Forecasting from Penn State. Contact Kim at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: November may be quiet following active hurricane season with 21 storms