After several quiet years, weather forecasters have been forecasting a more active hurricane season for several years now. Early forecasts put 2021 as another well above average season, though most do not think it will be as bad as the record breaking 2020 season.
Prior to 2016, Florida had gone a record ten years without a hurricane making landfall, that is until Hurricane Hermine hit Apalachee Bay in the Panhandle.
Though the official Atlantic Ocean hurricane season runs from June 1st to November 30th, it is not uncommon for storms to form before the start of the season, in April/May, or well beyond the end of the season right through to the following January.
In fact the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are even thinking of moving the official start date forward to May 15th instead of June 1st and the National Hurricane Center (NHC) are going to start issuing hurricane season tropical weather outlooks from May 15th.
In 2012 both Alberto and Beryl formed in May and in 2015 Ana also formed in May. In 2016 Alex formed in January and Bonnie in May. In 2017, Arlene formed in April and in 2018, another storm called Alberto formed in late May. 2019 was no different with Andrea also forming in May.
2020 broke records again with three tropical storms already having formed by June 2nd, just two days into the official 2020 Hurricane Season. The storms then came thick and fast beating 2005 for many earliest named storm letters.
Hurricane predictions for 2021
Below are the latest predictions from some of the major meteorological institutions.
Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University
The team led by Philip J. Klotzbach from the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University (CSU) normally make their first predictions in April/May time and on April 8, 2021 they published their first extended range forecast.
This first quantitive forecast was for 17 named storms, 8 hurricanes with 4 becoming major hurricanes.
They were forecasting an above average season with a 69% chance of a major hurricane making landfall on the entire United States coastline with a 45% chance of landfall on the southeast coast including most of Florida, 44% on the Gulf coast from the Florida Panhandle westwards and 58% in the Caribbean.
Further updates are expected around June 3rd, July 8th and August 5th.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) usually put out their first predictions towards the end of May each year with a revised forecast in August.
This year they published a Tropical Weather Outlook (TWO) on May 15, 2021. In it they are saying that an average season based upon the last 30 years (1991 to 2020) now has 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes of which 3 are major hurricanes. This is 2 named storms and 1 hurricane higher than last years 30 year average (1990 to 2019).
For 2021 they have predicted an estimated 16 to 20 named storms, 7 to 10 hurricanes of which 3 to 5 could be major hurricanes.
This again put their worst case scenario slightly ahead of Colorado State University.
They are predicting warmer than average sea-surface temperatures and a weaker wind shear coupled with a neutral El Niño.
NOAA made their first official forecast on May 20 with 13 to 20 named storms of which 6 to 10 to become hurricanes and 3 to 5 of them to become major hurricanes.
This will be followed by another forecast in early August.
AccuWeather.com announced their first forecast on March 31, 2021 and this year they were predicting 16 to 20 named storms with 7 to 10 hurricanes of which 3 to 5 could become major hurricanes. This is well above average and mirrors NOAA’s first forecast.
They are also predicting that 3 to 5 storms will make landfall in the US.
The Weather Company
On April 27, 2021, The Weather Company released their first forecast for the 2021 season with 18 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.
The Weather Company then revised their forecast slightly upwards on May 13, 2021 with 19 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes.
Tropical Storm Risk
Tropical Storm Risk made their first early extended range forecast on December 9, 2020 with 16 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.
On April 13, 2021 they updated their forecast slightly predicting 17 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes with 4 names storms and 2 hurricanes making landfall in the USA.
The next pre-season forecast is due on May 27, 2021.
Earth Networks who power WeatherBug are predicting 16 (+/- 4) named storms including 8 (+/-3) hurricanes of which 3 (+/- 1) could be major.
Joe Bastardi from CFACT.org has published his detailed 2021 forecast on April 7, 2021. In it he forecasts an especially dangerous season with 16 to 22 named storms, 9 to 13 hurricanes of which 3 to 6 will be major hurricanes.
He has also forecasted that 3 to 6 hurricanes will make landfall in the USA with 2 to 4 of them being major.
Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University team have often over estimated named storms and hurricanes in recent years but remember these are just predictions and 2020 took everyone by surprise.
It only takes one storm to do untold damage, just remember Andrew in 1992 or Katrina and Sandy more recently. 2017 ended up being far worse than anybody predicted.
In 1992 there were only seven named storms making it a “quiet” year but the first storm of the season, the category 5 Hurricane Andrew, hit Homestead near Miami before crossing over into the Gulf and onto Louisiana. Damage was estimated at $26 billion with around 65 people killed in total.
Storm names for 2021
Each year a set of names alternating between boys and girls is chosen by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) for all named storms. Names are often re-used on a six year cycle but the names of particularly damaging hurricanes such as Katrina and Sandy are withdrawn and never used again.
The names for tropical storms and hurricanes in 2021 are as follows:
The names for tropical storms and hurricanes in 2022 are as follows:
Alex, Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Gaston, Hermine, Ian, Julia, Karl, Lisa, Martin, Nicole, Owen, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tobias, Virginie, Walter.
The letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used because of the shortage of suitable names, leaving 21 names each year.
In previous years, once the letter W was reached, the WMO used to start to use the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet starting with Alpha but in March 2021 they announced that they had stopped that approach and instead will take the names from an auxiliary list.
The first time this happened was in 2005 and they were used again in 2020. Unlike the normal names the WMO did not normally “retire” the Greek names.
A secondary set of names for 2021 has been allocated:
Adria, Braylen, Caridad, Deshawn, Emery, Foster, Gemma, Heath, Isla, Jacobus, Kenzie, Lucio, Makayla, Nolan, Orlanda, Pax, Ronin, Sophie, Tayshaun, Viviana, Will.
For the seventh year in a row, the first named storm of the season occurred before the official start of the season on June 1st.
Tropical Storm Ana formed on May 22 around 180 miles northeast of Bermuda with wind speeds of 45mph and started tracking west southwest at 3mph.
It was forecast to strengthen slightly as it quickly turned onto a northeasterly track.
Bermuda was under tropical storm watch but Ana was not expected to make landfall and by the following day it had weakened to a tropical depression before weakening further.
Tropical Depression #2 formed on June 14 off the coast of North Carolina. By June 15 it has strengthen to become the second Tropical Storm of the season as Tropical Storm Bill, with wind speeds of 45 mph tracking northeast at 23 mph.
It briefly strengthened to 60 mph as it continued to track northeast away from the US Atlantic coastline. By the following day it had weakened into an extratropical cyclone.
Potential Tropical Cyclone #3 formed on June 17 in the southern Gulf of Mexico off the coastline of Campeche and started tracking northwards at 9 mph towards New Orleans.
Tropical Storm warnings were issued from Intracoastal City, Louisiana, through Mississippi to the Alabama/Florida border. Heavy rainfall of up to 8 inches and flooding with a storm surge of up to 3 feet was forecast.
It came ashore just west of New Orleans as a cyclone on June 19 with gusts of up to 60 mph.
It was expected to strengthen and it became Tropical Storm Claudette as it passed over Houma, Louisiana with wind speeds of 45 mph tracking north northeast.
It passed through southern Mississippi and as it reached Alabama it weakened to a Tropical Depression tracking east northeast.
It is forecast to pass close to Atlanta, Georgia as it continues to track towards the Carolinas and strengthens again into a Tropical Storm bringing heavy rain and flash flooding in its path. Tropical storm warnings have been issued for the North Carolina Atlantic coastline between Cape Fear and Duck.