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Hurricane season could be ‘extraordinarily active,’ state climatologist warns

Hurricane Delta pictured in satellite imagery collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the evening on October, 9, 2020.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Hurricane Delta pictured in satellite imagery collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the evening on October, 9, 2020.

This hurricane season, which officially starts next month, could be one of the busiest on record. That’s according to climatologists at Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science and a dozen other groups that release annual forecasts.

Louisiana’s interim state climatologist Jay Grymes said these predictions shouldn’t be ignored. He’s served as the chief meteorologist for WAFB in Baton Rouge since 2003.

“What stands out in my mind is that a variety of research groups are really posting the highest number for their forecast ever,” Grymes told Louisiana Considered host Diane Mack. “So that’s enough to make me want to sit up and take notice.”

Researchers at Colorado State University predict 23 named storms will form over the Atlantic Ocean and five could become major hurricanes. In a press release, they put the likelihood of a hurricane rated at Category 3 or above making landfall in the U.S. at over 60 percent.

Grymes said several factors could drive an “extraordinarily active season,” including warmer-than-usual sea surface temperatures and less wind than usual over the Atlantic, which allows more heat to accumulate.

He also pointed out that about one-third of storms that form in the Atlantic basin eventually make their way into the Gulf of Mexico. So if the forecasts are accurate, seven or eight storms could enter the Gulf this year — which would mean a high likelihood of one or more making landfall in Louisiana.

There is also a growing body of evidence showing that human-induced climate change is increasing the severity of hurricanes, as well as the likelihood that storms will rapidly intensify.

Last year, the National Hurricane Center recorded 20 named storms in the Atlantic basin, and none of them made landfall in Louisiana. Grymes said the state got lucky, noting that the last two decades have been the busiest hurricane years on record, with one named storm making landfall in Louisiana on average each season.

The National Hurricane Center, which is among the most reliably accurate forecasters, has not yet released its predictions for the coming season. Its forecast is due to be released later this month and will be updated in August.

Grymes stressed the importance of Louisianans being prepared for the possibility of multiple major storms this year, and urged them to make decisions as early as possible about whether and where to evacuate.

“That decision isn’t simply about personal safety,” he said. “It’s about family safety,” adding that’s especially true for families with members who are reliant on electricity due to medical needs or vulnerability to heat.

The best strategy, Grymes said, is to make a plan now for where you’ll go and how you’ll get there. He also advised getting a hurricane kit ready, having multiple ways to access weather reports and local media, and being sure to check storm forecasts from the National Weather Service multiple times a day whenever a storm is in the Gulf.

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