After last year's record-breaking hurricane season, forecasters are expecting another overactive season in 2021.
Just how overactive? That depends on whom you ask. Colorado State University’s team says 17 named storms, eight hurricanes – three of which Category-3 or higher. AccuWeather predicts 16 to 20 named storms, sevent to 10 hurricanes and three to five of which are Category-3 and above.
“Prepare now; that’s all that I can tell you – because hurricane season is coming. In fact, you should treat it as it’s here now,” said Athena Masson, a meteorologist at FPREN – the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.
“Anything can happen; it’s been six consecutive seasons since we’ve seen a tropical cyclone form outside of the season, so we should treat every day as if hurricane season is ongoing,” said Masson. “And active or not, we need to be prepared for what is to become this season.”
Besides the coronavirus pandemic, the year 2020 also brought a ton of severe weather. Thirty-one storms total, 30 of which were named, reaching into the Greek alphabet. Of those, 13 became hurricanes and of those, six became major hurricanes of Category-3 or stronger.
“What’s going to make 2020 so memorable, is that a lot of these went into the Gulf of Mexico, very close to land,” Masson said. “And once we do have a storm that goes into the Gulf of Mexico, it has nowhere else to retreat to. Someone is going to be impacted, whether it be the Yucatan [Peninsula], Texas, or along the Gulf Coast.”
Also last season, a bit of little-known history was made. Watches and warnings from the National Hurricane Center were issued in every single coastal county in the U.S. – both East and Gulf Coasts -- except for Wakulla and Jefferson in Florida.
“That’s very impressive; we have not seen that before, that every single county except for two, had either a tropical storm watch or warning – or a hurricane watch and warning – even a storm surge warning. Those were the storms that came close to those counties that those watches and warning were issued for.”
As for the 2021 hurricane season, which kicks off June 1 and runs through Nov. 30, forecasters are calling for another above-average season. Masson says at least five weather centers have made such predictions, but she adds each has different criteria that they look at – such as Colorado State’s prediction of a La Nina, providing a “cool phase” in the Pacific Basin.
“What we see in the Pacific is that sea-surface temperatures go lower and wind shear begins to pick up; so it’s not a very active season generally in the Pacific,” Masson said. “The opposite occurs in the Atlantic, though. In the Atlantic, our sea-surface temperatures really start to rise, and we have noticed over the past few months – especially in the subtropics – that our sea-surface temperatures are well above-average for this time of the year.”
Add to that a weather phase that’s been in place in the Atlantic since 1995, which is conducive to the formation of tropical cyclones. As for the Colorado State report, Masson says the numbers are scary – so take them with a grain of salt.
“What they are projecting is a 69% chance for a major hurricane to make landfall for the entire United States coastlines,” said Masson. “They’re projecting 45% for the East Coast, and that does include the Florida Peninsula and that goes all the up towards Maine. Gulf Coast – 44% chance.”
The Caribbean, says Masson, “sticks out like a sore thumb” in being impacted the hardest by cyclones. CSU’s prediction for that region is a 58% chance.
FPREN’s Athena Masson reminds everyone that their predictions – while only predictions – are also educated guesses as to what’s going to happen this hurricane season, based on the science.
“We’re meteorologists; we’re not psychics. We can forecast with a moderate to a high certainty of the activity for this season,” Masson said. “However, we cannot tell you where these cyclones are going to be going, and at what strength that hurricane is going to be at this point.”
The prediction from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is due out in May. The average hurricane season, according to NOAA, includes 14 named storms and seven hurricanes up from 12 and six respectively.