The United States should prepare for a sixth year of above-average number of Atlantic hurricanes, Colorado State University (CSU) forecasters said in the first official 2021 outlook on Thursday.
The closely-watched outlook points to an active year, but below the vast scale of 2020’s season. Last year saw a record of 30 named storms that ran through the initial 21 chosen names and required nine Greek letters.
Colorado State forecasters on Thursday estimated 17 named storms and eight hurricanes will form this year, above the historical average of 12 storms and six hurricanes. Those storms will produce four major hurricanes packing winds of at least 111 miles per hour (178.6 kph), according to CSU’s forecast.
“We are forecasting a well-above average hurricane season,” said Colorado State research scientist Philip Klotzbach.
The season begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
If CSU’s forecast proves correct, it would continue a streak of above-average storms and damaging hurricanes that has lasted since 2016. Scientists have cited warming ocean temperatures leading to larger, more damaging storms.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release its hurricane outlook in the second half of May, according to spokesman Dennis Feltgen. NOAA will start twice-daily tropical weather outlooks on May 15, two weeks earlier than in the past, reflecting May storms in each of the past six years.
Commodity weather specialist DTN forecasts 20 named storms, with nine becoming hurricanes. Upper level air flows will steer more storms to the U.S. Northeast this year, estimates Vice President of Weather Operations Renny Vandewege.
The year should be “much more normal and less costly” than 2020 for oil producing and refining regions of the U.S. Gulf Coast, DTN said. The Gulf Coast area last year suffered the largest drop in crude oil output since 2008.
Klotzbach said there was a 45% probability for a major hurricane to strike the U.S. East Coast including the Florida peninsula and a 44% probability a major hurricane would make landfall along the Gulf Coast between the Florida panhandle and Brownsville, Texas.
There is a 41% probability of a major hurricane coming within 50 miles (80 km) of Florida, according to the CSU forecast. Louisiana has 23% probability of a major hurricane coming within 50 miles and Texas has a 21% probability.
In recent years, thousands have died and property damages routinely topped tens of billions of dollars from bigger storms’ fierce winds and storm surges. Insured losses from natural catastrophes in 2020 hit $76 billion, estimated Swiss Re.
The current La Nina weather system is expected to enter a neutral phase during this year, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in March. La Nina, caused by cooler water in the central and eastern Pacific encourages the formation of tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean.
Offshore Gulf of Mexico oil production accounts for 17% of U.S. crude production and about 5% of natural gas production. Over 45% of total U.S. petroleum refining capacity as well as 51% of total U.S. natural gas processing plant capacity lie along the Gulf Coast.