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By Meteorologist Randy Mann
Article published on March 21, 2021

Last year was the most active and fifth costliest Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history. There were a record 30 named storms that led to over $51 billion in damage. The season officially begins on June 1, but in 2020, the first named storm, Tropical Storm Arthur, formed on May 16. The next tropical storm, Bertha, formed on May 27.

There was a total of 13 hurricanes that formed last year. Six of those storms strengthened into major hurricanes, a Category 3 or higher. The strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. coastline last year was Hurricane Laura. The storm struck southwestern Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane, which was the strongest in terms of wind speed since the 1856 Last Island hurricane.

Storm names are retired when they are very deadly or destructive and replaced by other names. Last week, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) retired four named storms from 2020. They included Dorian, Laura, Eta and Iota. The names for the Atlantic and Caribbean storms are recycled every six years. There have been 21 names per list and the Greek alphabet was used during the very active seasons of 2005 and 2020 when all of the alphabetical list of names were used. By the way, names beginning with Q, U, X, Y and Z are not on the list because the WMO said those letters are “not common enough or easily understood in local languages to be slotted into the rotating lists.”

However, starting with the 2021 season, the Greek alphabet will no longer be used when named storms exceed 21. Instead, they will use a “supplemental list” of names based on the modern English alphabet.

The official date the tropical storm and hurricane season begins is on June 1 and ends November 30. Based on the 30-year average, there are about 12 named storms. Six of those storms become hurricanes with two of them in the “major” Category 3 or above. Last year was the fifth consecutive season with above average named storms in the Atlantic and Caribbean regions. It was also the sixth year in a row where a tropical or subtropical cyclone developed before the official start of the season on June 1. The old record was four years in a row from the 1951 through the 1954 seasons.

The 2017 season was the costliest tropical cyclone season on record with a price tag of over $282 billion. That figure accounted for about 25 percent of all the combined natural disasters in the United States from 1980 until 2017.

Last year, conditions were perfect for the formation of these systems. There was a cooler than normal La Nina sea-surface temperature pattern along the Equatorial regions. Ocean waters were also warmer than normal across much of the Atlantic Ocean where the tropical systems originated. However, sea-surface temperatures have warmed a bit. We’re close to a “La Nada,” the in-between cooler La Nina and warmer than normal El Nino.

For 2021, Cliff and I see another active season, but not as many tropical storms and hurricanes like we had in 2020. We believe that there were around 20 named storms with 6 to 9 hurricanes. In 2020, there were 6 hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. It’s possible that we could see 3 to 5 of them hit the U.S. coastlines later this year. I’ll have more updates as the official start of the season gets closer.