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AccuWeather to Florida: Watch out this hurricane season

Last year the Bermuda high helped steer hurricanes away from Florida. That may not help this year.
This GOES-16 GeoColor satellite image taken Sept. 15, 2020 shows Hurricane Sally moving slowly towards the U.S. coast from the Gulf of Mexico and passing by Florida and the Tampa Bay area.
This GOES-16 GeoColor satellite image taken Sept. 15, 2020 shows Hurricane Sally moving slowly towards the U.S. coast from the Gulf of Mexico and passing by Florida and the Tampa Bay area. [ AP ]
Published Mar. 31
Updated Apr. 1

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be more active than usual, according to an early forecast from private forecasting service AccuWeather — and this time Florida may not be so fortunate.

If the prediction of another active season sounds familiar, that’s because the last five storm seasons were all active. Last year a record 30 named storms formed and kept forecasters busy for months.

Florida faces a heightened risk this year because of the weakening of the Bermuda high. Last year that high-pressure zone pushed many storms south of the state, delaying their turn north until they were past the peninsula and in the southern Gulf of Mexico.

The Bermuda high helped Florida avoid a direct hit from a hurricane in 2020. Six hurricanes made landfall in the U.S., and four actually took aim at Florida, but none reached the Sunshine State. The state, though, may no longer be shielded.

“The pattern that’s setting up is that we could see more of these early-curving storms,” said AccuWeather lead hurricane forecaster Dan Kottlowski. “That could threaten the east coast a little more this year than previous years.”

Related: It was a record hurricane season in 2020. How did they all miss Florida?

The weakened Bermuda High also means more storms could reach the eastern seaboard.

The forecast contains some good news for those who live along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. This season is not projected to be anywhere as frenetic as 2020 was, when 13 hurricanes formed and six grew into major hurricanes.

AccuWeather projects the Atlantic will produce 16 to 20 named storms this year. Those figures are slightly above the 30-year average of 14 named storms per season.

The forecast also calls for the Atlantic to spawn seven to 10 hurricanes. Three to five of them could become major hurricanes generating wind speeds exceeding 111 mph, which is a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

A chart with projected data for the 2021 hurricane season, as well as historical data from past seasons.
A chart with projected data for the 2021 hurricane season, as well as historical data from past seasons. [ AccuWeather ]

The Bermuda high’s rim is expected to be farther northeast at the peak of this year’s hurricane season in August through October, which could cause storms to curve north earlier and strike the east coast, Kottlowski said.

Other concerning signs that scientists will watch in 2021 are slightly above-normal sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic and projected low levels of wind shear. Storms are also expected to form earlier this year (before and around the traditional June 1 start) in part because the La Niña cycle — a Pacific phenomenon that affects Atlantic weather — will still be in effect in June and July. That means less Atlantic wind shear to disrupt storm formations.

Related: Four names from 2019 and 2020 hurricane seasons to be retired

Weak wind shear allowed a record number of storms to form last year. But this year some models show La Niña could go into a “neutral pattern” starting in August, resulting in more wind shear that could make conditions harder for storms to form.

“The pattern is not as robust as last year,” Kottlowski said. “This is why we don’t think we’ll have another 30 storms this year.”

2021 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

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