The 2021 hurricane season looks like it’ll be another active one, NOAA says, but not quite as bad as last year.
“We do not expect the 2021 hurricane season to be as active as 2020,” said Matthew Rosencrans, the hurricane season outlook lead at NOAA’s climate prediction center.
This year, NOAA said there’s a 60% probability of an above-normal season. It predicts 13 to 20 named storms, 6 to 10 of which would strengthen to a hurricane and 3 to 5 becoming major hurricanes, which means Category 3 or higher.
Last year there were 30 named storms, 14 of which were hurricanes and a record-breaking 7 of which were major hurricanes.
One of the most influential factors in whether a season is active or not is a phenomenon called El Niño-Southern Oscillation. El Niño is associated with warmer waters in a certain spot in the Pacific Ocean and can slow down hurricane activity. La Niña is the opposite, and ENSO neutral means that neither factor is at play.
“We are currently experiencing ENSO neutral conditions,” Rosencrans said. “Should La Niña return later in the hurricane season, which does have the potential to occur … we could see activity on the upper end of our predicted ranges.”
Rosencrans also said that the continued “high activity period,” marked by hotter sea surface temperatures, slower trade winds and a more active west African monsoon season, also affects how many storms could form.
Human-caused climate change does not play a direct role in the number of storms predicted to form this year, he said. But it is linked with wetter and more intense storms.
“Climate change does not have a direct impact on the increase of named storms,” he said. “Most of that increase is due to better technology … that allows us to better understand storm structure.”
Other pre-season forecasts, including one from Colorado State University, also suggested a “well above average” season will be in store.
Both NOAA and CSU’s forecasts take into account the “new normal” for hurricanes. NOAA recalculates the average number of storms in a given year every decade, so the 30-year average number of named storms in a year jumped from 12 to 14 this year.
Another update, this time from the World Meteorological Organization, is that there will no longer be storms named after Greek letters. Meteorologists said using the Greek alphabet after running through the 2020 storm name list was confusing and distracting.
Instead, the National Hurricane Center has a backup list of names ready for this year if needed.
On the press call, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell urged Americans to review their evacuation plans, double-check their insurance policies and prepare in advance of hurricane season.
“Be sure to keep in mind how the COVID-19 environment could affect those plans,” she said.
NOAA will re-evaluate its forecast in a few months, ahead of the August and September peak of the season.