The first named storm of the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane season likely forms by the weekend; a swirling low near Bermuda begins to take on tropical characteristics over the next few days, and it gets the name Ana if it does indeed becomes a tropical or subtropical storm. Another area of disturbed weather could develop over the Gulf of Mexico and impact Texas through the weekend.
NOAA’s May forecast update: still looking active!
NOAA issued the May forecast update on Thursday, and there’s not a lot of change in the expectations this season:
You can read the entire update from NOAA here:
So what does this mean for the Gulf Coast?
In short, it doesn’t tell us much about impacts for Alabama’s coast or neighboring coastlines.
Last year, Hurricane Sally made a direct hit on Baldwin County: landfall at Gulf Shores at 4:45 AM on September 16th (almost exactly 16 years after Category Three Hurricane Ivan hit the exact same spot).
Hurricane Zeta, a Category Three at landfall in Louisiana hit Alabama hard as the storm’s core moved northeast across the state.
Climatology tells us the return period for a hurricane is around nine to eleven years on the Alabama, Mississippi and Northwest Florida Gulf Coast.
The return period for a major hurricane is longer: between two and three decades.
So while the law of averages tells us the odds are against a repeat of a Sally, Zeta – or even an Ivan or Katrina – in the 2021 season, we have to remember that averages are the middle of extremes.
For example, the return period on a hurricane near Lake Charles, Louisiana is 14 years. Hurricane Laura hit as a strong Category Four last August; Hurricane Delta came into the same area forty-one days later.
The lesson here? ‘Normal’ isn’t always reality.
The lack of a strong La Niña or El Niño influence and large-scale jet stream patterns suggest that the risk along the Alabama Gulf Coast is higher than average.
The Colorado State University forecast shows a risk of a landfalling hurricane (or major hurricane) roughly 1.5 times higher than average for Mobile and Baldwin Counties. CSU’s forecast shows a 75% chance of a named tropical storm or hurricane making landfall within 50 miles of Alabama’s coast in 2021; direct hit or not, that’s close enough to have a big impact because the landfall point is only part of the story! Large tropical cyclones can be a major problem for hundreds of miles of coastline that never see a ‘landfall’ (the point where the center of the storm comes ashore).
If you’re beach-bound to the Alabama or Northwest Florida Gulf Coast this summer, be sure to check out our Gulf Coast Forecast page on WHNT.com and on Live Alert 19!