After an active first half of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, the tropics have gone quiet.
We have not had a named storm since Tropical Storm Victor formed on September 29 and dissipated on October 4. Victor was the 20th named storm of the season.
There is only one more name on the official list for this year, which is Wanda.
The climatological peak of the season is September 10, with a gradual decline in activity until the official end of the season on November 30.
Now we know we can see activity in October, and even past the official end of the season.
But this year, October has been dormant for the tropics. Why?
Robbie Berg is a Hurricane Specialist at the National Hurricane Center and notes that there are a few reasons for a silent stretch in the season.
“During the season, we always watch these tropical waves move off the coast of Africa. And as we get to late September, that tends to shut off. And that’s what happened. The waves just have not been very strong coming off Africa. So our attention has kind of shifted from the eastern Atlantic out to the western Atlantic. And this time of year, we often see these areas of disturbed weather form over the Caribbean, and that just has not happened this year.”
Berg also notes that the atmospheric conditions have not been conducive for development. One of those factors is stronger wind shear, which essentially rips storms apart and prevents further development.
Many of us are enjoying the calm conditions, but that calmness may not last for the rest of the season.
“And I can’t predict right now that we will have more storms as we head into November, but November is still a month where the waters in the Caribbean are still warm enough, the atmospheric conditions can still be conducive for development,” says Berg.
Berg stresses that even though there is nothing to track in the tropics right now, that it does not distract from the incredibly active year we have had so far.
“Even if we don’t have any more storms, we’ve been busy. We’re already well past the average of fourteen named storms. Only one more name on the regular name list before we potentially go to the auxiliary list. So we’ve already been busy whether or not we have any more storms or not.”
October has been quiet, but it’s important to remember that November can still be a busy month. Last year, the strongest storms of the season were in November.
The United States has felt the devastating impacts of landfalling tropical systems this year. It is a trend that is becoming far too common.
“As far as having the number of landfalls we’ve had, it’s almost become normal. Just think back to the past few years. Not just this year, but last year in 2019. We’ve just had so many landfalls. In fact, I would say back to 2016, it was kind of a start of this period where every year we’re getting these major hurricane landfalls,” says Berg.
It isn’t just the major hurricanes that are bringing major damage. Weaker storms are still leading to significant damage, especially when it comes to rainfall.
“Well, I think the biggest takeaway I will say is water, water, water, water. We get so wrapped up in how strong these storms get, and that’s important, because obviously, the wind can cause a lot of damage, but we don’t need strong storms to cause very heavy rainfall and catastrophic flooding.”
Berg specifically recalls Fred, which made landfall in Florida, but brought catastrophic flooding to western North Carolina. He also references Ida.
“You know Ida made landfall as a major hurricane in Louisiana but look at the havoc it caused in places like New Jersey and New York City. It wasn’t even a tropical system anymore; it was the Remnants of Ida. And yet we saw copious amounts of rain, a lot of rain in a short period of time, and then unfortunately we just saw so many deaths from people in the city and in New Jersey that whether they weren’t expecting that type of rainfall or just couldn’t avoid it.”
Unfortunately, water continues to be one of the biggest killers in these types of systems. Berg says that 90% of all deaths occur from some type of water impact, either freshwater flooding or storm surge.
As a North Carolina State University alum, Berg has some wisdom for his fellow North Carolinians.
In short, remember that any part of our state can be affected by tropical systems.
“We’ve seen storms hit everywhere. Like Fred this past year really impacted the mountains, think back to a storm like Hurricane Hugo in 1989 that hit South Carolina but then remained as a hurricane as it went up through the Charlotte area. So, in essence, all North Carolinians need to be preparing for hurricane seasons. Whether it be from the winds, or the storm surge along the coast, or again this freshwater flooding impacts that can occur well inland.”