Atlantic hurricane season may be off to a quick start!

Weather

FILE – In this Sept. 12, 2018 photo provided by NASA, Hurricane Florence churns over the Atlantic Ocean heading for the U.S. east coast as seen from the International Space Station. Astronaut Alexander Gerst, who shot the photo, tweeted: “Ever stared down the gaping eye of a category 4 hurricane? It’s chilling, even from space.” (Alexander Gerst/ESA/NASA via AP)

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:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is predicting another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season. Forecasters predict a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season, and a 10% chance of a below-normal season. However, experts do not anticipate the historic level of storm activity seen in 2020. 

NOAA – Climate prediction center

You can read the entire update from NOAA here:

NOAA predicts another active Atlantic hurricane season

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.

Return period for a hurricane (wind greater than 74 MPH)

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!

Looking for the rest of the forecast? It’s always online at WHNT.com/Weather and in the “Daily Forecast” section on Live Alert 19!

-Jason
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