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'We need to prepare now': meteorologists told what the hurricane season of 2021 will be

Although spring has just begun, the AccuWeather meteorological team is focusing on another season of the year - hurricane season. And, based on current weather data, as well as long-term climate forecasts, forecasters are urging residents of regions of the United States traditionally exposed to hurricanes to prepare for them now. Writes about it AccuWeather.

Photo: Shutterstock

AccuWeather forecasters say there is another challenging year ahead of us, although it will be less stressful than 2020.

Hurricane season in the Atlantic last year was like no other. Not only was it then possible to name 30 storms (the maximum on record), but the United States suffered 12 direct hits, a record after nine in 1916. Forecasters then had to turn to the rarely used Greek alphabet for the second time in history to name the expected hurricanes and storms.

A team of AccuWeather experts led by veteran meteorologist Dan Kottlowski predicts 2021-16 storms in the Atlantic in 20, including 7-10 hurricanes. Three to five are projected to become severe hurricanes (category 3 or higher with a maximum wind duration of 111 miles, or 178 km, per hour or more).

The AccuWeather forecast shows that 2021 is expected to be an overshoot for tropical activity in the Atlantic. A normal season is a season in which there are 14 storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Thirteen hurricanes formed in the past year, six of which reached the threshold of a major hurricane.

In terms of the number of storms that will directly affect the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, it is expected to be three to five hurricanes, according to Kottlowski's team. The average annual number of direct impacts is 3,5.

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“Current signs indicate that this will be another unusual season,” Kottlowski is convinced. "This could have serious consequences for the United States."

To make the forecast, Kottlowski and his team looked at current weather conditions and then looked at long-term climate models to determine what would happen during the high season in August, September and early October. There are several key factors that will influence the upcoming season.

Will La Niña

One of the determining factors for the development of the season is El Niño (ENSO). This is a short-term climate change that is driven by warming or cooling of waters in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. When the water in the equatorial Pacific is warmer than average, El Niño is usually announced. When the opposite is true, it is called La Niña.

Current projections call for a transition of the existing La Niña model to ENSO neutral by late spring or early summer, which means that the water temperature in this area of ​​the Pacific will be closer to the average.

The big question now is whether the painting will return to La Niña by the end of the hurricane season, Kottlowski said.

“If this happens, then there will certainly be an increased likelihood that we will see more than 20 storms,” he explained.

What is the relationship between water temperature in the Pacific Ocean and hurricane season in the Atlantic

During the La Niña periods, atmospheric wind shear over the Atlantic becomes less common. Vertical wind shear is one of the most serious obstacles to storm development. When there is less wind shear in the atmosphere, storms can develop with fewer obstacles. La Niña conditions were formed at the height of the 2020 fertile season.

If La Niña returns and more than 21 tropical storms develop, there could be a “new” storm in the Atlantic. Previously, if 22 named storms were formed in one season, which occurred only in two hyperactive years - 2005 and 2020 - Greek letters were used to name tropical cyclones. The World Meteorological Organization announced in March that it will now apply an additional list of names if the usual one is exhausted.

The water temperature in the Atlantic is already above normal

Alarming signs have begun to appear in the western Atlantic Ocean. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are above normal in the northern and central Gulf of Mexico, Kottlowski said. Waters in much of the Caribbean and the tropical Atlantic are also warmer than usual.

As of March 29, the water temperature in the Key West area, Florida, was about 81,5 degrees Fahrenheit (27,5 Celsius), which is about five degrees above normal. However, it is still a long way from March 29, 2020, when the water temperature in the area reached 87,8 degrees (31 Celsius).

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The only exception is the western Gulf of Mexico, where water temperatures were below normal in late March due to a historic Arctic cold outbreak in February. However, water temperatures are expected to rise by the start of the season.

The official start date for the Atlantic season is June 1, but in recent years named storms have become commonplace in May and even April. Kottlowski said that based on current trends and warm waters in major tropical Atlantic spawning grounds, he expects the likelihood of a pre-season storm to be "above normal" this year.

“Our biggest problem is that the water temperature in most of the pool is already warmer than usual,” Kottlowski said, adding that it won't take long for the water temperature to rise even higher during the summer and high season.

SST exceeded normal throughout the 2020 tropical season.

Since 2010, seven Atlantic hurricane seasons have had at least one storm prior to the start date of the hurricane season. The last season without any pre-season storms was 2014.

Due to this trend of frequent pre-season storms, the National Hurricane Center is considering moving the official start date of the season to 15 May.

Studying the past to predict the future

AccuWeather predicts five direct hits to the US this year. In 2020, Louisiana alone was hit by five hurricanes. In fact, Southwest Louisiana was the site of nearly identical landfalls from the powerful Category 4 Laura Hurricanes in August and Category 2 Delta Hurricane in October.

The Gulf Coast has also been attacked frequently in the past year, with hurricanes hitting areas from southern Texas to northern Florida. One of the reasons the storms continued to rage in the Gulf of Mexico was the strength of the Bermuda High. This high pressure zone was powerful last year and has helped push new storms off the East Coast into the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

This season, AccuWeather meteorologists believe the Bermuda High will not maintain its strength as it did in 2020, and do not expect it to push far south into the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. This will increase the likelihood of recurring storms across the western Atlantic to the east coast, Kottlowski said.

He explained that recurring storms in the Atlantic Ocean are more likely to impact the east coast.

Analog years are another source of data for forecasting the entire hurricane season. Analog years are past years when the weather was similar to current and predicted weather conditions. Forecasters often use analog years as a way to determine future trends and predict which parts of the United States may be at high risk.

The past few hurricane seasons that the researchers looked at in making this forecast were from 1996, 2001, and 2012. Based on climatic data over the years and similar seasons, the areas with the greatest risk of direct exposure to hurricanes or tropical storms are the western and northern parts of the Gulf (Mexico, all of Florida and the North Carolina coast).

Keep a close eye on Africa

Hurricanes often form in the Far East Atlantic after tropical waves that are in Africa emerge from the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean and quickly turn into stronger storms. Normal or over-normal tropical waves are predicted to occur off the coast of Africa this season.

On the subject: Hurricane seasons start earlier: US meteorologists postponed forecast dates

At the beginning of the tropical season, development is often hampered by the presence of dry air and dust that penetrates the open Atlantic from the Sahara Desert. This is expected to happen in 2021, Kottlowski said. However, by the peak of the season, dry air and dust will become less common, which should contribute to the development of storms.

How intense can this season be

Accumulated Cyclone Energy (or ACE) is a measure used by meteorologists to determine the intensity of a year. While 2020 was busier than any other season on record, it wasn't the most intense hurricane season. According to the records of researchers from Colorado State University, he gave an ACE of 182, which is less than the total for the 2017 season of 225, and a whopping 245 from the 2005 season.

In 2021, AccuWeather forecasters expect the season to be slightly higher than usual in intensity. The predicted ACE value is 120-160; the average over 30 years is 123.

“ACE doesn't always decide everything,” Kottlowski warned. "Just because one season has a lower ACE than another does not mean storms will be less devastating to the United States."

It's time to plan

While the Atlantic hurricane season is still two months away from the official start, Kottlowski says now is the time for people in hurricane-prone regions to think about a plan to defend against the storm, and explore escape routes and nearby shelters.

A strong hurricane is not needed to cause tangible damage to human property. Even a slow moving tropical storm can cause heavy rain and life-threatening flooding.

Hurricane season does not officially end until November 30, and 2020 is a good reminder of that. Hurricanes Delta and Zeta hit the Louisiana coast in October. However, tropical activity continued until mid-November last season, with two major hurricanes, Eta and Iota, hitting Central America over the course of two weeks.

“We need to prepare now,” said Kottlowski.

“Another challenge we all face is the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. - This continues to cause serious concern among evacuation centers. Don't wait until August or September to figure out what to do in the middle of hurricane season. It's time to make a plan. "

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