2021 hurricane season: NC State predicts it will be active

 2021 hurricane season: NC State predicts it will be active

Last year’s record-breaking hurricane season might still be fresh in your memory, but it’s time to start planning for what could be another doozy.

Researchers at North Carolina State University predict an active 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, which starts June 1.

Here’s what to know.

How many named storms should we expect?

In their annual report released last week, N.C. State researchers say they expect 15 to 18 named storms in the Atlantic basin during the 2021 season, which runs until Nov. 30.

The Atlantic basin includes “the entire Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.”

Storms are given names once they reach “tropical storm-level winds,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Tropical storms have maximum sustained surface wind speeds of 39 mph to 73 mph.

Is that a lot of named storms?


There were an average of 11 named storms each year in the Atlantic between 1951 and 2020, according to Lian Xie, professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences at N.C. State.

But since 1991, the Atlantic has seen an average 14 named storms per season, according to the NOAA.

How many could become hurricanes?

Seven to nine, according to N.C. State researchers.

Of those, two or three could become major hurricanes, according to the report.

Hurricanes have maximum sustained surface wind speeds of 74 mph or more.

A major hurricane is considered a Category 3 storm or higher, with wind speeds between 111 mph and 129 mph and the strength to cause “devastating damage,” according to NOAA.

Category 4 storms have wind speeds between 130 mph and 156 mph, and Category 5 storms have wind speeds of 157 mph or higher. Both can cause catastrophic damage.

How does this compare to last year?

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season brought 30 named storms, according to NOAA. Thirteen were hurricanes, and six were major hurricanes.

“This is the most storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and the second-highest number of hurricanes on record,” NOAA says.

Last year was the fifth in a row that the Atlantic saw an “above-normal” hurricane season, according to agency.

There were so many storms that 2020 became “the second year in history that Greek letter names were used as storm names after exhausting the usual rotating list of 21 names,” NOAA says. (The first year was 2005.)

What are other experts predicting?

AccuWeather and Colorado State University researchers also also predict a busy 2021 season.

Experts at AccuWeather expect 16 to 20 named storms, with seven to 10 hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes — a slightly worse outlook than the one forecast by N.C. State.

Scientists “examined current weather patterns then studied long-range climate models to make a determination about what will happen during the heart of the season in August, September and early October,” to come up with the projections, AccuWeather says.

Colorado State University researchers predict 17 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.

“This forecast is based on an extended-range early April statistical prediction scheme that was developed using 38 years of past data,” researchers said. “Analog predictors are also utilized.”

At N.C. State, researchers looked at more than 100 years of “Atlantic Ocean hurricane positions and intensity” data, as well as “as other variables, including weather patterns and sea-surface temperatures.”

What’s in store for the Carolinas?

N.C. State doesn’t offer predictions for specific regions. But other experts have weighed in.

Researchers at Colorado State University predict a 45% chance of a major hurricane making landfall on the U.S. East Coast. That’s above the 31% average over the last century.

AccuWeather meteorologists say the North Carolina coast, Florida and the the western and northern Gulf of Mexico are the areas at highest risk of “direct impacts” of hurricanes or tropical storms this year.

The Gulf Coast took the brunt of the 2020 hurricane season, while the East Coast was largely spared. Isaias was the only hurricane to hit the East Coast last year, making landfall in North Carolina on Aug. 3.

When to prepare?

It’s best to prepare for hurricanes before hurricane season begins, the National Weather Service says.

Find out if you live in a hurricane evacuation area, put together an emergency kit and check emergency equipment “such as flashlights, generators and storm shutters,” experts say.

The NWS also recommends reviewing your family’s emergency plans and insurance policies and making sure you understand the weather service’s forecast products.

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Bailey Aldridge is a reporter covering real-time news in North and South Carolina. She has a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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