The Atlantic Ocean is expected to be busier than normal this 2021 hurricane season, according to the latest projections by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Thursday.
NOAA’s Climate prediction center believes that 2021 will be yet another above-normal hurricane season in the Atlantic with forecasters predicting a 60% chance of an above-normal season. With just a 10% chance of a below-normal season, this means that forecasters are predicting a 90% chance of right at or above-normal hurricane season for 2021.
NOAA is predicting a range of 13 to 20 named storms for the 2021 season. Of those 13 to 20, NOAA predicts that 6 to 10 of those will become hurricanes, including 3 to 5 major hurricanes, which is a Category 3 or higher.
Despite those numbers, NOAA does predict that 2021 will not be as active as last year.
“There could be 20 hurricanes in a season but if none of them make landfall in Horry County, we would consider that a pretty good season,” said Thomas Bell with Horry County Emergency Management.
With the formation of Subtropical storm Ana on Friday, that makes it seven consecutive years that hurricane season began before its official start date of June 1.
Steve Pfaff of the National Weather Service (NWS) in Wilmington, North Carolina said early season storms usually do not have a lot of wind impacts.
“If they do have wind impacts, it’s usually heavy rainfall," Pfaff said. "It has enough water temperature but there’s not enough chance to transform these things to major hurricanes in May or June.”
Pfaff says that the larger hurricanes are more common in the later months, like August, September or October. Those three months are typically when Horry County sees the larger storms disrupt the area such as Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 and both Hurricane Florence in 2018 and Dorian in 2019 happening in September.
According to research released on April 8 from Colorado State University’s tropical weather and climate research, the forecast probability of a name storm impacting our area is 55%. The forecast probability of a hurricane impact is 30%. According to the research, there is a 6% probability of a major hurricane hitting our county this year.
“It’s incredible where we are at this point where forecasters and researchers can kind of come up with some numbers just to give the entire populations along the Gulf Coast and the East Coast the ability to try and understand what to expect,” Bell said. “In terms of exact probabilities and predictabilities, it would be great if they could give us with 100% certainty that ‘Oh, we’re going to get a hurricane during this week, during this month of the year.’ Despite all the incredible advances in technology we have for forecasting and predicting the weather, it is still wildly unpredictable.”
It is because of that wild unpredictability that both Bell and Pfaff urge residents to “always be prepared.“
“We want everyone to understand that every hurricane is different," Bell said. “We can have a Category 1 storm one month and a Category 1 storm another month and they can be two very different storms in terms of how it impacts the county,” Bell said. “We just want folks to really understand what the impacts are expected to be and make your decisions based off of that.”
While no one wants to know what a Category 5 hurricane will do to the Grand Strand, Horry County itself has seen devastating effects from hurricanes that were Category 1.
“You can have a strong Category 1 or a strong Category 2 and still get significant damage,” Bell said. “We want folks to understand what exactly the forecasters are saying in regards to the impacts that could be affecting the area.”
With hurricanes that are Category 1 bringing as much damage sometimes the areas as a Category 3, Pfaff urged residents cannot base their decisions on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the scale that categorizes hurricanes.
“The Saffir-Simpson scale is just one component that describes a storms intensity with respect to wind,” Pfaff said. “It doesn’t talk about the amount of rainfall. It doesn’t attribute to the amount of river flooding that there will be. It doesn’t amount to the degree of storm surge. It doesn’t say anything about how many tornadoes we are going to have.”
Officials continue to urge residents to listen to emergency management, local news outlets and continue to be prepared for whatever comes their way.
That means creating an evacuation plan or stocking up on supplies to possibly seeking shelter. Despite much of the state opening back up, South Carolina is still dealing with the lingering effects of COVID-19. As of right now, shelters, which are run by the Red Cross, won’t be at full capacity. That might change in August or September.
“It’s something we are playing by ear,” Bell said. “For the early season planning, we are still following the COVID-19 protocols and procedures that were in place last year in terms of shelters. That could certainly change as we get later into the season and we see what the COVID-19 numbers look like. They might make a decision to change that but as of right now we are still preparing for COVID-19 protocols in the shelters.”