To answer that question we have to go back to compare to just last year. As you may remember 2020 was a rough year on many fronts, not the least of which was the deadly and destructive record-setting tropical season in the Atlantic basin.
Thirty named storms (over double the average) wreaked havoc, especially in the Gulf coast region. Six tropical systems made landfall on the coast between Pensacola and Galveston, four of them hurricanes. While I do think we will have another busy season, I don't think we will reach the epic levels of last year. Two limiting factors stand out to me.
Number one is the cooler than normal waters in the Atlantic in the Main Development Region (MDR). Most of our tropical activity in the Atlantic basin originates between the Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola, etc.) and the west coast of Africa, moving east to west. Even if a storm doesn't develop until the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico, many of those are remnants of lows that have crossed the Atlantic. Unfortunately my weather source in West Africa is not going to be there this season, so first-hand accounts may be scarce or non-existent. Nearly all tropical systems need warm water to develop and persist, especially temperatures above 28 C (82 F). As of now, the water from the Cabo Verde Islands to the Antilles is mostly cooler than normal. If this persists into the fall, this may inhibit or weaken storm systems that come off the African coast. However, like last year, if the lows hold together enough they could generate or regenerate once they hit the warmer waters off the east coast of the U.S. or the Gulf of Mexico.
Number two is the weakening La Nina. Last season we had a developing and strengthening La Nina in the Pacific. La Nina's generally reduce wind shear in the Caribbean and western Atlantic region which helps to develop tropical systems. According to the Climate Prediction Center's latest assessment of the waters in the equatorial Pacific the La Nina is weakening significantly, but it is still borderline. We are officially in a "neutral" standing. I'm not sure this second limiting factor is as impactful as the first one to the coming hurricane season. Besides, last year was just so patently insane that any drop will seem more benign.
The National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables is forecasting an above normal year with a 60 percent chance of 13-to-20 named storms, half of which would be hurricanes. If that holds then this year will bring only a little over half the numbers of last year. But, as you know, it only takes one big one to make a season truly memorable. Remember Cat 5 Andrew in 1992? This first named storm of the season crushed south Florida while the remainder of the season was well below normal with only seven total named storms.
Like last season, I think many of the storms will form close in to the U.S. coastlines, giving less time than normal for preparations. Meanwhile, our summer has started off near average with some much-needed rain in the area. It still looks like summer 2021 will feature some significant hot spells broken by some needed rain episodes and cooler temperatures from time to time. So far temperatures and rainfall in 2021 have been remarkably (or maybe unremarkably) close to average. Weather averages for May, 2021: Avg. low: 55. Avg. high: 78. Lowest: 42. Highest: 90. Mean: 66.3 (-2.6). Rainfall: 5.69" (+2.62" - 6th wettest May since 1983). 2021 rain total to May 31: 20.68" (+0.31").
Mark Jenkins is Madison County’s Cooperative Weather Observer.