Your 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook

2020 saw a record-shattering 30 named Atlantic storms. Will the basin finally calm down in 2021?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After a record-breaking 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season, all eyes are on the ocean as we head into the warmer months of 2021. Will this year bring another active hurricane season? All signs, for now, point to yes.

New outlooks released from Colorado State University, North Carolina State University, and The Weather Channel all seem to suggest that yet another above-average season is on the way. Here’s what they’re calling for, respectively:

2021 Hurricane Outlook

Tropical StormsHurricanesMajor Hurricanes
NOAA13-206-103-5
CSU1784
NCSU15-187-92-3
The Weather Channel1883
Average Season1473

As you can see, most agencies are banking on an active season. Why, you may ask? Let’s break it down together.

What Makes an Active Season?

As you may well know, hurricanes thrive on warm water, something that is plentiful over the ocean. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), tropical systems typically need water that is at 82°F to support cyclogenesis (tropical storm formation). With warmer waters becoming more common as our climate also warms, the Atlantic has become more of a hotbed for tropical activity as of late. In fact, each of the past five seasons have all been above-average in terms of tropical storm formation. Furthermore, a warmer ocean means hurricane seasons both get started earlier and end later. 2020 made a record-breaking six seasons in a row with at least one off-season (outside of June 1 – November 30) tropical storm. 2020’s last hurricane of the season, Iota, became the latest-forming Category 5 on record before slamming into Central America.

Ocean temperature isn’t the only condition that bears watching as the new season approaches. Wind shear (the changing of wind speed/direction with height/distance) is another critical factor for making or breaking an active season. Hurricanes and tropical storms can be torn apart if the wind shear in its area is too high, no matter how warm the water it feeds off of may be. Researchers have noted a weak/ending La Niña may be prevalent through the first half of the season, which may keep wind shear lower than normal. Side note: La Niña is defined as cooler-than-average waters off the Pacific coast of South America. Since wind fields are a product of pressure and temperature, this cooling has drastic effects felt thousands of miles away.

Another key component to look out for is dry air intrusion. Remember the plume of Saharan dust from Africa last year? The lack of tropical activity during its dominance over the Western Hemisphere was no coincidence. Hurricanes need warm, moisture-laden air to survive; when they are cut off from this vital resource, they tend to wither.

At the end of the day, it takes many different ingredients coming together to produce a hyperactive hurricane season. While the pieces are there for another above-average season, chances are it won’t be another record-breaking one compared to 2020. We’ll need to watch carefully as we head into May and beyond, so download our COIT WeatherWise app as hurricane season approaches. Remember: it only takes one storm to make a season memorable and/or devastating for the people impacted.