NOAA's GOES-East satellite captured this image of Hurricane Laura on August 26, 2020 as it approached the Gulf Coast. (NOAA)

NOAA Predicts Above-Average Hurricane Season But Chances of 2020 Repeat Not Likely

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 1217
May 20, 2021

Forecasters with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are predicting another active Atlantic hurricane season this year, but the season will likely fall short of the record-breaking level of activity we saw in 2020.

Forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center predict a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season, and a 10% chance of a below-normal season, according to its 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook published Thursday. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 3.

For 2021, NOAA expects a likely range of 13 to 20 named storms (where winds are 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (74+ mph), including 3 to 5 major hurricanes (Cat 3 or greater, i.e. 111+ mph). NOAA noted 70% in the forecast.

“Now is the time for communities along the coastline as well as inland to get prepared for the dangers that hurricanes can bring,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “The experts at NOAA are poised to deliver life-saving early warnings and forecasts to communities, which will also help minimize the economic impacts of storms.”

Last month, NOAA updated its statistics to reflect higher hurricane season averages based on most recent 30-year climate record, spanning 1991-2020. Based on this data, an average hurricane season now produces 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes. This is up from 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes from the 1981-2010 statistics.

NOAA 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook

noaa 2021 hurricane outlook
A summary infographic showing hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms predicted from NOAA’s 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook. (NOAA)

NOAA says last year’s record-breaking season serves as a reminder to all residents in coastal regions or areas prone to flooding to be prepared for the 2021 hurricane season. The 2020 season produced 30 named storms (you may recall going to the Greek alphabet named storms), of which 13 became hurricanes, including six major hurricanes. This marked the most storms on record, surpassing the previous 2005 record of 28 named storms.

“Although NOAA scientists don’t expect this season to be as busy as last year, it only takes one storm to devastate a community,” said Ben Friedman, acting NOAA administrator. “The forecasters at the National Hurricane Center are well-prepared with significant upgrades to our computer models, emerging observation techniques, and the expertise to deliver the life-saving forecasts that we all depend on during this, and every, hurricane season.”

According to NOAA, El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is currently “neutral,” meaning there is neither El Nino or La Nina, although it is possible that La Nina returns later in the hurricane season.

“ENSO-neutral and La Nina support the conditions associated with the ongoing high-activity era,” said Matthew Rosencrans, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “Predicted warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds, and an enhanced west African monsoon will likely be factors in this year’s overall activity.”

2021 Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Names

2021 hurricane names
A summary graphic showing an alphabetical list of the 2021 Atlantic tropical cyclone names as selected by the World Meteorological Organization. The first named storm of the season. The official start of the Atlantic hurricane season is June 1 and runs through November 30. (NOAA)

Interestingly, NOAA going forward will not use the Greek alphabet for named storms after the initial 21 names on the list are exhausted at the decision of the World Meteorological Organization because the Greek alphabet names have been deemed too confusing for the general public and “creates a distraction” when trying to communicate hazards and storm warnings. Any additional storms will take names from an alternate list of names approved by the WMO.

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