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Above-average hurricane season forecast with several major hurricanes

<i>CNN/Adobe Stock</i><br/>The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center on May 24 forecasted 14 to 21 named storms
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center on May 24 forecasted 14 to 21 named storms

By Jennifer Gray, CNN meteorologist

The official start to hurricane season is just a week away and forecasters are predicting another busy one.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center on Tuesday forecast 14 to 21 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes — of Category 3 strength or greater.

The 2020 and 2021 seasons both exhausted the hurricane name list and broke records. No one can say for sure if this year will be similar, but in early April, Colorado State University released its numbers, which were right in line with what NOAA is forecasting.

The CSU forecast called for 19 named storms, nine hurricanes and four major storms.

After back-to-back years of using all the hurricane names and resorting to the Greek alphabet, the World Meteorological Organization decided to do away with using the Greek alphabet and made another list of names to be used if all the hurricane names are exhausted once again.

Of course it’s impossible to know how many of those storms will make landfall along the US coast, or where the largest storms will develop.

However, during the announcement, NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad recognized that the current hurricane cycle for the Atlantic is a busy one.

“If you go back two years, the 2020 hurricane season broke records across the board and it’s the most active season on record with 30 named storms,” said Spinrad.

“The 2021 hurricane season, which is the third most active year on record in terms of names of storms brought us 21 named storms with impacts, ranging from the Appalachian Mountains all the way to New England, resulting in over $78.5 billion in US damage.”

What’s driving the above-average seasons

There are several contributing factors that play into a “busy” hurricane season. “We are in an active period,” said Spinrad. “There are certain ingredients that drive the intensity and the frequency of hurricanes.”

One is the existing La Niña conditions in the equatorial Pacific. This phenomenon creates cooler-than-average ocean temperatures around the equator in the Pacific and results in weather impacts around the globe.

La Niña presents favorable conditions for hurricanes — in contrast to that of El Niño.

Hurricane seasons under El Niño conditions are known for upper-level wind patterns across the Caribbean that tear hurricanes apart as they try to form, making the seasons less active.

Another reason for the above-normal forecast is the location of what’s called the “Gulf Loop Current.” This current is “a 600-foot-deep river of hot Caribbean water that travels between Cancun, Mexico and western Cuba into the Gulf,” said CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

This loop current is flowing farther north now, forcing warm water at deeper levels of the ocean to travel closer to the coastal areas along the Gulf of Mexico. “The warm water is simply too deep and the hurricane has an unlimited supply of hot water for intensification,” said Myers.

Forecasters are comparing the position of the loop current with where it was placed in the record-breaking 2005 season — when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita both made landfall.

“Yes, the loop current does look like 2005,” said Matthew Rosencrans, lead hurricane season outlook forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “But it depends if a storm actually moves over that loop current and forecasting the specific track of storms is not something we can do beyond a week time frame,” Rosencrans added.

Back-to-back record-breaking years

During the 2021 hurricane season, eight storms made landfall along the US Gulf Coast and in 2020 six made landfall along the Gulf.

In 2020, Hurricanes Laura and Delta both slammed into southwest Louisiana, making landfall roughly 15 miles apart.

What to do if you are in the path of a hurricane

“In 2021, Hurricane Ida ripped through Southeast Louisiana, then caused more catastrophic damage in the Northeast.

“Hurricane Ida spanned nine states, demonstrating that anyone can be in the direct path of a hurricane and in danger from the remnants of a storm system,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. “It’s important for everyone to understand their risk.”

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