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2021 hurricane season expected to be more active than average

Colorado State University calls for 17 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes
Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico as of April 8th.
Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico as of April 8th.(WSFA 12 News/Rutgers University)
Updated: Apr. 12, 2021 at 6:46 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Believe it or not hurricane season starts in less than 50 days in the Atlantic. So what’s in store in the tropics here in 2021? Will it be a repeat of 2020? Will it be quieter?

Enter Colorado State University (CSU) and their 2021 hurricane season outlook -- one that may not be what you want to hear.

Researchers at CSU are once again predicting an above average hurricane season this year. The main driver behind that prediction is the likely absence of El Niño, according to the release. Other factors include near-normal tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures and much warmer than normal subtropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures.

The official outlook for the 2021 hurricane season from Colorado State University calls for an...
The official outlook for the 2021 hurricane season from Colorado State University calls for an above normal year.(WSFA 12 News)

So why does the presence of El Niño -- or lack thereof -- matter for hurricanes in the Atlantic?

“El Niño tends to increase upper-level westerly winds across the Caribbean into the tropical Atlantic, tearing apart hurricanes as they try to form,” according to CSU’s Dr. Phil Klotzbach.

The lack of El Niño is what led CSU researchers to forecast 17 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes (category 3+). Those numbers are above the climatological average of 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.

Colorado State University is projecting an above normal hurricane season in 2021.
Colorado State University is projecting an above normal hurricane season in 2021.(WSFA 12 News)

The CSU outlook for the 2021 hurricane season -- which runs June 1st to November 30th -- also calls for 80 days with at least one named storm, 35 days with at least one hurricane and 9 days with at least one major hurricane existing somewhere in the Atlantic Basin.

Each of those numbers is above normal as well.

The report went even further and included the probabilities of a major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coastline.

Colorado State University issued probabilities for a major hurricane landfall on the U.S. coast...
Colorado State University issued probabilities for a major hurricane landfall on the U.S. coast in 2021.(WSFA 12 News)

There is nearly a 70% chance of a major hurricane striking somewhere along the U.S. coast, a 45% for just the East Coast and a 44% chance for just the Gulf Coast.

Those probabilities are also -- you guessed it -- above the normal values of 52%, 31% and 30%, respectively.

It’s important to note that it’s impossible to predict where exactly this year’s storms will go. There’s no true correlation between the number of storms to form and the number of direct U.S. impacts. It’s entirely realistic, although unlikely, to have an above average year for tropical systems with no direct U.S. impacts at all. It’s also plausible to have an above average year for tropical activity with numerous direct impacts to the U.S. coast. See 2020 for a prime example.

On the flip side, there have been multiple quiet years in the Atlantic that featured a notable U.S. landfall. You could have a year with only three or four named storms, but one of them could be absolutely disastrous. It’s important to remember that it only takes one storm to change your life forever.

The list of names for the 2021 hurricane season.
The list of names for the 2021 hurricane season.(WSFA 12 News)

Another important tidbit to remember is that you do not need a major hurricane to cause extensive damage and have everlasting effects. Tropical storms that move slowly can bring worse flooding than a category 5 hurricane that moves a bit faster. There have been tropical storms that have actually had worse impacts in the U.S. than some hurricanes!

So please don’t fall into the “it’s only a tropical storm or weak hurricane so I don’t need to worry about it” mindset here in 2021. Treat all tropical systems seriously and as potentially significant threats.

Let’s make it a safe and hopefully quieter hurricane season!

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