As what may be the first tropical cyclone of the year swirls in the mid-Atlantic, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it expects another busy hurricane season.
The annual forecast released Thursday calls for an above-normal storm season, predicting that 13 to 20 named storms and 6 to 10 hurricanes could form in 2021.
An average hurricane season has 12 to 14 named storms. That makes this year’s forecast more active than usual, but it doesn’t call for a repeat of the record-breaking 30 named storms that formed last year.
The government’s forecast was in line with other recent forecasts. A Colorado State University forecast projects 17 named storms in 2021. AccuWeather, a private forecasting service, calls for 16 to 20 named storms this year.
There is a 60 percent probability of an above-normal season, according to federal scientists. They also forecast that 3 to 5 major hurricanes could form. A major hurricane is one classified as a Category 3 or higher, which means that it’s generating maximum winds of 111 mph or greater.
Last year there were 14 hurricanes and a record-breaking seven major hurricanes, yet Florida escaped the season without a single hurricane making landfall along its 1,350 miles of coastline.
Acting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Ben Friedman warned Floridians and other Atlantic residents that while this forecast doesn’t call for a repeat of 2020, there is no reason to let their guard down.
“It only takes one storm to devastate a community,” he said.
Both warmer-than-average sea-surface temperatures and weaker wind shear were cited as reasons to expect a busy season.
Scientists also cited the El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño is associated with warmer waters there and can cause hurricanes to experience more wind shear in the Atlantic. La Niña is the opposite, inviting more storms to form and strengthen, while ENSO neutral means that neither factor is at play.
As of Thursday, the Pacific was in a neutral phase. But it’s not a guarantee to last throughout the season, said hurricane researcher Matthew Rosencrans of the administration’s climate prediction center. Instead, he said it may shift to a La Niña phase in time for the heart of hurricane season, which would make conditions more conducive for storms.
“Should La Niña return later in the hurricane season, which does have the potential to occur, we could see activity on the upper end of our predicted ranges,” he said.
The agency’s first 2021 hurricane season forecast was released on the day that the National Hurricane Center gave a low-pressure system located in the mid-Atlantic a 90 percent chance of becoming the first named storm of the year within the next five days.
It was located about 650 miles east-northeast of Bermuda, according to the 2 p.m. advisory. By Friday, it is expected to reach the sustained winds of 39 mph needed in order to become Tropical Storm Ana.
Hurricane season official starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30, but in recent years storms have been forming outside those boundaries, particularly in May.