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Forecasters increase number of storms expected for 2021 hurricane season

Colorado State University forecasters increased the number of storms in the 2021 hurricane season from 17 to 20.
High winds due to Tropical Storm Eta, along Bayshore Blvd on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 in Tampa.
High winds due to Tropical Storm Eta, along Bayshore Blvd on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Jul. 8
Updated Jul. 9

Buckle up, Florida. We’re in for even more hurricanes this year than initially anticipated, according to an updated forecast from Colorado State University.

Colorado State revised its initial forecast for the 2021 hurricane season to include 20 named storms and nine hurricanes, up from the 17 named storms and eight hurricanes forecasters initially predicted in April. Researchers at the university announced the change on Thursday.

An average season has 14 named storms and seven hurricanes, so forecasters consider this season to be above average, but not nearly as busy as last year’s record-breaking one.

Related: Here are the names Florida will worry about this hurricane season

This latest revision takes into account the five named storms that have already formed this summer, said Phil Klotzbach, the lead researcher at Colorado State. This includes Hurricane Elsa, which brought heavy rains but just missed making landfall in Tampa Bay earlier this week.

Klotzbach said during a presentation Thursday that there are three main reasons for the jump in tropics activity: Above-average temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, an active West African monsoon season and the low probability for El Niño to develop.

Those conditions combined create favorable conditions for storms to develop in the Atlantic, he said. Warmer oceans also generate more powerful storms, while a lack of El Niño in the Pacific Ocean means there will be less wind shear in the Atlantic to break potential storms down. The presence of West African monsoons enables wind patterns coming off the continent to more easily spin up storms, Klotzbach said.

Researchers at Colorado State also said that Elsa, which began as a tropical wave off the African coast before traveling across the Atlantic, was an early warning sign that conditions are conducive for an active year.

While Elsa teetered between being a hurricane and tropical storm off Florida’s West Coast Tuesday, it was also the earliest hurricane to form in the season since 2005. It beat out Hurricane Hanna’s July 25 formation in 2020 — the highly active storm season that had a total record-breaking 30 named storms.

“Elsa’s development and intensification into a hurricane in the tropical Atlantic also typically portends an active season,” read the Colorado State forecast. “We anticipate an above-normal probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean.”

But there is some good news. Colorado State forecasters said that 2021 isn’t expected to be as active as last year. That’s when seven major hurricanes formed, including Category 5 storms Iota and Eta. The university’s forecast for this year projects there will be four storms of Category 3 strength or higher.

The updated forecast gives Florida and the U.S. East Coast a 43 percent chance of being struck by at least one major hurricane in 2021.

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