Hurricane season: just around the corner

The National Hurricane Center will begin issuing tropical weather outlooks Saturday, 15 days earlier than previous seasons.

May 9-15 is National Hurricane Preparedness Week

HOLT, Fla., May 9, 2021–The official start of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1.

Or does it?

This Saturday, the National Hurricane Center, located at Florida International University in Miami, will issue the first 2021 tropical weather outlook, kicking off the season 15 days earlier than during previous years.

Named storms have formed prior to the official start of the hurricane season in about half of the past 10-to-15 years, including each of the past six years.

Many of the May systems, while short-lived, hybrid (subtropical) systems, are now being identified because of better monitoring and policy changes that now name subtropical storms, according to a National Weather Service release.

In 2020, the NHC issued 36 “special” tropical weather outlooks before June 1, according to a March 2 NWS Facebook post.

To provide more consistent information on the potential for late May and early June systems, the NHC will now begin the routine issuance of Atlantic outlooks May 15.

It is also considering the need for, and ramifications of, potentially moving the beginning of the hurricane season to May 15. That decision falls to the World Meteorological Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations made up of 193 member countries and territories.

While no changes were made for the 2021 season, the recommendation is still under consideration.

Record-breaking season

The 2020 hurricane season got off to an early and rapid start with a record nine named storms from May through July. 

It ended late, with two major hurricanes in November for the first time on record, at a time when the season is normally winding down. 

September was the most active month on record in the Atlantic, with 10 named storms.

A record-breaking season, there were 30 named tropical storms, including 13 hurricanes and six major hurricanes, with direct impacts in many countries in the Atlantic basin, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico. 

It was the fifth straight season with above-average activity and caused hundreds of casualties and billions of dollars’ worth of damage, according to the WMO.

There were 12 landfalling storms in the continental United States, five in the Caribbean, including two at category 4 strength that occurred in Nicaragua about two weeks apart.

During 2020, the NHC issued 639 advisory packages, nearly twice as many as during an average season. 

U.S. Air Force and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Reconnaissance hurricane aircraft flew 223 missions to monitor the track and intensity of tropical storms.

Memorable storms 

Of the 30 named storms last season, Hurricane Sally came closest to Okaloosa County. 

Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores in Alabama Sept. 16 with maximum winds of 105 mph, a category 2 storm. 

This was the first Alabama landfall since Hurricane Ivan in 2004, also along Gulf Shores.

Both Sally, and Ivan 16 years before it, impacted the northwest Florida panhandle. 

Rising waters from Hurricane Sally washed out the roadbed under Clear Creek Road in Crestview September 18, 2020. (Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office)

In north Okaloosa County, the Shoal River saw its highest level in 20 years as a result of rainfall. 

On U.S. Highway 90, west of Crestview, the river rose so high that it reached the bottom of the bridge, causing the road to be closed. 

Shoal River flooding also covered Interstate 10, causing a section of the highway to be closed between exits 56 and 70 in both directions. 

Throughout the area, residents felt the impacts of flooding, downed trees and power lines, and power outages.

In 2004, Hurricane Ivan landed along Gulf Shores Sept. 16 as a category 3 storm with 120 mph winds, causing heavy storm damage in Pensacola and Gulf Breeze.

Roads in Pensacola Beach were closed well into December because of storm damage.

A section of the pier at Navarre Beach were washed away. Much of the east-west road on Santa Rosa Island through the Gulf Islands National Seashore from Pensacola Beach to Fort Pickens was covered with sand or washed out.

U.S. 98 between Fort Walton Beach and Destin was washed out, and the sand spit at Norriego Point in Destin was breached.

The biggest headlines were reserved for the quarter-mile section of the Interstate 10 bridge that collapsed into Escambia Bay. The bridge reopened with temporary repairs in November. In Florida, Ivan is credited with 14 deaths.

On the rise

The number of named storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes has steadily risen since 1960, according to data by the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami.

From 1961 to 1990, there were 10 named storms, 5.7 hurricanes, and 1.9 major hurricanes per year.

From 1991 to 2020, those numbers rose to 14.4 named storms, 7.2 hurricanes and 3.2 major hurricanes per year.

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