After a record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, with an unprecedented 30 named storms that formed, early predictions from experts at Colorado State University (CSU) signal another active year ahead.
In the release of the long range forecast on Thursday, researchers are predicting 17 named storms, up from the average of 12, and eight hurricanes, compared with an average of six. Of those eight hurricanes, four are expected to be "major." The forecast also calls for a higher than average risk of landfalls in coastal areas of the U.S.
According to Dr. Philip Klotzbach, the forecast's lead author and hurricane specialist at CSU, the predicted lack of El Niño and a warmer than normal subtropical Atlantic are the primary reasons for the above-average season.
"Sea surface temperatures averaged across the tropical Atlantic are currently near average, while subtropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures are warmer than normal," the report states. "We anticipate an above-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean."
The 2020 season produced 30 named storms (with top winds of 62 km/h or greater), of which 13 became hurricanes (top winds of 119 km/h or greater), including six major hurricanes (top winds of 178 km/h or greater). The tally represents the most storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, with the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.
Officials noted that the 2020 season "ramped up quickly" and broke records across the board. Amid the busy season, the 21-name Atlantic list was quickly exhausted when Tropical Storm Wilfred formed on September 18. For only the second time in history, the Greek alphabet was used for the remainder of the season, extending through the ninth name in the list, Iota. As well, the record-tying storm, Eta -- from the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet -- was the first storm in history to be given that moniker.
"As is the case with all hurricane seasons, coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them," the 2021 report reads. "They should prepare the same for every season, regardless of how much activity is predicted."
Weather Network meteorologist Dr. Doug Gillham agrees 2021 looks to be a very active season, with an above-average number of named storms and hurricanes, if not as active as 2020's record.
As for any potential impact on Canada, Gillham says, when looking back at years that had similar weather patterns compared to how forecasters expect this summer to shake out, there's a tendency for more storms to track near the U.S. East Coast. This differs somewhat from 2020, when storms tended to be more concentrated in and around the Gulf of Mexico.
"This could mean a higher risk to Atlantic Canada than what we see from a typical hurricane season," Gillham says. "However, the actual impacts will come down to the exact tracks of individual storms which cannot be forecast more than a few days in advance."
The hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends November 30.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is expected to release its official forecast in May.