March 14, 2021
... Here we go again!
The official start of the Atlantic hurricane season is still six weeks away, though recent history suggests we could see at least one early storm. In fact, NOAA is reported to be considering whether the official start date for next year should be moved to May 15. The first of the major forecasts – from the respected team at Colorado State University – appeared on April 7, and it calls for an above average season in 2022.
CSU expects 19 named storms with nine hurricanes, of which four will qualify as “major”, and an Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) value of 160 compared to an average of 123 in the last 30 years. (ACE is a measure of potential damage that is the product of wind speed and storm days.) Other early forecasts from Tropical Storm Risk, Crown Weather and AccuWeather produced similar results.
At this time last year, after a 30-storm season in 2020, most forecasters looked for 2021 activity to be above average. It was the third most active season on record, with 21 named storms and 7 hurricanes of which four were “major” (winds of 111 mph or higher). However, at least half the storms spent most of their lives in mid-ocean and several might never have been detected without satellite observation.
A big supporting factor for CSU’s 2022 forecast is in the eastern Pacific. Weak La Niña (cool current) conditions persisted through most of last year and are still in place. Even if the tropical Pacific gets back to neutral, none of the forecasters expects that a significant El Niño (warm current) will occur this year. This means no updraft of warm air to break up hurricanes that track into the southern Caribbean basin or try to develop there.
Most of the tropical Atlantic is staying within a degree or two of “normal” sea surface temperature, and both the Caribbean and the south Pacific are warmer than usual. The predictors for wind shear – air currents that can block storm development or blow a storm apart –suggest little interference with an active season. Weaker trade winds mean less mixing and evaporation to cool the sea surface in the western Atlantic and Caribbean.
The CSU team looked at a total of five forecasting models. These produced a surprisingly tight grouping of 16-21 named storms and 8-12 hurricanes. In fact, the final outlook is a bit more conservative than the average result produced by all the forecast models. CSU admits “The early April forecast … has modest long-term skill” in hindsight. In other words, it probably gets the direction right but the exact numbers are more reliable as more data becomes available.
CSU suggests a 60% chance of at least one storm making landfall somewhere in the Caribbean, compared to the average for the last century of 42%. Because the forecasters expect no El Niño, the landfall chances for Cuba, Mexico, and Central America remain high. The Bahamas, an increasingly frequent landing spot for wandering Atlantic storms, leads the target tables. The model also produces a 65% chance that a named storm will come within 50 miles of Jamaica.
It’s not too soon to start preparing. Make sure your house is in good repair and your yard is tidy. Things left lying around – trash, old furniture, tree branches and construction waste – turn into deadly missiles when a storm wind or a flash flood picks them up.
Also, if you live near a gully, ditch or culvert, make sure it’s kept clear so water can run away freely. DON’T WAIT FOR SOMEBODY ELSE TO TAKE CARE OF IT. Even without a direct hit from a hurricane, flooding can be a serious problem. Wind can mess you up but water can kill you.