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Hurricane Season 2021 Keeps Getting More Active

A satellite view of Nicholas, taken just a few hours before it became a hurricane.
A satellite view of Nicholas, taken just a few hours before it became a hurricane.(KNOE)
Published: Sep. 14, 2021 at 4:09 PM CDT
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - 14. That is the average number of named systems in a hurricane season. It is also the number of named storm systems so far (as of September 14, 2021) in this year’s hurricane season.

To put that in perspective, we still have about two and a half more months to go. Hurricane season lasts through November 30.

As I write this, Nicholas is churning through east Texas as a tropical storm. It made landfall last night as a category 1 hurricane - the 8th named storm and 2nd hurricane to directly hit the U.S. this year.

Additionally, there are two other areas in the Atlantic being watched for development. Our number of named systems (and hurricanes) is almost certain to go up.

Truly, this has been an incredibly active year for the tropics. And we have no reason to believe that the hurricane-making machine will slow down in the weeks to come.

At the beginning of the season, NOAA predicted 13-20 named storms and 6-10 hurricanes. They also projected 3-5 major hurricanes (hurricanes of category 3 strength or stronger). Scientists at NOAA said there was a 60% chance that Hurricane Season 2021 would feature above-normal activity.

NOAA's May 2021 hurricane season prediction
NOAA's May 2021 hurricane season prediction(KNOE)

So far, their predictions have proven to be right on the money. We’ve had 14 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes.

The tropics got off to an early start back in May, with the formation of Tropical Storm Ana in the central Atlantic. It didn’t last long, but the system was notable because it actually occurred outside of the traditional hurricane season, which stretches from June 1 to November 30.

The first named system to make landfall in the U.S. was Claudette, which impacted much of the southeast (including Louisiana) in June. From late June to early August, the U.S. was impacted by three additional tropical systems: Danny, Elsa, and Fred; all of which hit the nation as tropical storms. Elsa was the first hurricane of 2021, though it did not make landfall in the U.S. as a hurricane.

In mid August, a system organized in the central Atlantic and entered the Caribbean, quickly developing into a tropical storm and then a hurricane. This was Grace - the 7th named storm of 2021. Grace briefly weakened after moving over the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, before emerging back over open water and re-strengthening into a category 3 hurricane. It was the first major hurricane of 2021. Grace proceeded to unleash devastation over a large chunk of eastern Mexico.

Just a few days later, Hurricane Henri formed in the Atlantic and quickly moved towards New England. It weakened to a strong tropical storm right before making landfall in Rhode Island. This storm caused a lot of flooding in New England, though it could have been much worse. Fortunately, New England was spared damage on the same scale as it received from Hurricane Sandy (2012).

Unfortunately, another part of the U.S. would soon suffer destruction of a far more severe sort.

Right on the heels of Henri came the season’s worst storm so far: Ida. As a category 4 major hurricane with sustained winds of 150 MPH, Ida smashed into Louisiana on August 29. It was tied for the strongest storm (by wind speed) to ever make landfall in the state.

Although it made landfall in late August, much of the devastation has yet to be repaired as of mid-September. Preliminary estimates show that insurance claims may total 20-30 billion USD (Reuters). This makes Ida one of the most destructive hurricanes in American history. It will take years for parts of southeast Louisiana to fully recover.

Since Ida, there have been five named systems. One of these - Larry - became a major hurricane, though its track carried it far from U.S. territory. Nicholas, the most recent tropical system, strengthened into a category 1 hurricane right before smacking into Texas last night.

The tracks of all named storms so far in 2021 (through September 14)
The tracks of all named storms so far in 2021 (through September 14)(KNOE)

As was mentioned earlier, we are still far from done with hurricane season. The statistical peak of hurricane season is September 10, which we just passed a few days ago. Judging from this graph, there is still a lot more that can - and likely will - happen. We are in a very active tropical pattern, something which has become more and more commonplace in recent years.

Tropical system frequency (1851-2015) throughout hurricane season
Tropical system frequency (1851-2015) throughout hurricane season(KNOE)

Those of us at KNOE will continue to keep you updated as the season rolls forward. Hopefully, when we write our full summary at the end of the season, we won’t have had to add too many more storms to this list.

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