People exaggerate a lot these days. The modern person has instant access to everything occurring anywhere in the world thanks to social media and the internet. The average American 30 years ago probably wouldn’t even know an Atlantic hurricane season was particularly active, unless they lived in Florida or Louisiana.
There seems to be a prevailing assumption today that the more-active-than-average 2020 hurricane season is the harbinger of some kind of new norm. As most scientists and weather experts will tell you, one or two years of increased activity isn’t solid evidence for a permanent trend.
There’s actually a very predictable and proven scientific reason for last years increased hurricane activity, and it’s unfortunately followed us into 2021.
The El Niño and La Niña climate cycles have a significant impact on the Atlantic hurricane season. These climate cycles are complex, and if you really want to get an in-depth understanding of how they affect hurricane formation near Florida you probably shouldn’t rely solely on a blog about hurricane damage, but we’ll try our best to provide a concise summary of the phenomenon.
The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a cycle of temperature fluctuations in and over the Equatorial east-central Pacific Ocean. La Niña is when that part of the ocean and the atmosphere above it are cold, El Niño is when it’s warm.
It’s important to understand that we’re not always in an El Niño or La Niña cycle. On average an El Niño or La Niña period only occurs once every two to seven years. El Niño periods typically stick around for nine months to a year, while La Niña periods last an average of one to three years. Most of the time ENSO cycle is simply in neutral.
Why would temperature changes in the eastern Pacific Ocean affect hurricane formation in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and equatorial Atlantic?
The formation of a hurricane can be disrupted by vertical wind shear. El Niño conditions produces strong winds blowing westward across the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean – both of which are hot spots for the formation of hurricanes that end up landing in Florida. That’s why during El Niño years we tend to have fewer Atlantic basin hurricanes.
When the eastern Pacific water is colder than normal during a La Niña phase that wind shear is reduced below normal levels, meaning tropical Atlantic and Caribbean storms can grow vicious without being disrupted by high wind shear.
The La Niña period that started in 2020 is expected to continue this year at least through the Spring. The National Weather Service predicts a 55 percent chance for the Eastern Pacific to be ENSO neutral (neither El Niño or La Niña) April through June, but they also admit model forecasts are less accurate during Spring, so who knows?
If you’re really interested in these climate patterns or want to find the latest ENSO news, we encourage you to visit the National Weather Service’s ENSO page. There you’ll find weekly expert prediction presentations and other resources.
The 2021 Hurricane Season will begin in June. If La Niña is still in effect (45 percent chance) yes, it will likely be more active than normal.
The first formal 2021 season forecast from Colorado State’s Tropical Meteorology Project, one of the most frequently cited forecasting reports for Atlantic hurricane seasons, won’t be released until April 8, 2021. However, they did release a preliminary report on potential factors that may impact the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season back in December 2020.
When the first official forecast is available in early April we’ll make sure to post a summary, but here are some important 2021 Hurricane Seasons factors to keep in mind:
The best we can do right now is hope 2021 gives the country a bit of a reprieve from a hyperactive Hurricane Season.
We encourage you to read through some of our hurricane preparedness advice:
We also have some tips on dealing with hurricane property damage insurance claims:
Make sure to check back over the next few months for additional information on the upcoming 2021 Hurricane Season.