Although most states are not threatened by hurricanes, with today’s technology, the average American can track a hurricane’s every move. The 2020 hurricane season proved to be more active than usual, and it seems that this trend will continue into 2021. Scientists and meteorologist claim that there is not enough evidence to predict a permanent trend. However, there is a scientific reason for the rise in hurricane activity, last year, and it has sadly chased us into 2021.
The blame is on the El Niño and La Niña climate cycles, which have a substantial impact on the Atlantic Ocean hurricane season. El Niño and La Niña are complex cycles and deep research is required to get a good understanding of their effects. To give you a head start on the topic, here is a summary.
El Niño and La Niña
ENSO, also known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, is a cycle of fluctuating temperatures around the Equatorial east-central Pacific Ocean. The term El Niño refers to warm temperatures in that part of the ocean, and La Niña is when that part of the ocean is cold. ENSO can be in El Niño, La Niña, or neutral cycle. The cycle is usually in neutral, but once every two to seven years, El Niño and La Niña cycles will occur. It is typical for El Niño to last approximately 9 months and La Niña will commonly last about one to three years on average.
You may be asking yourself, how does the temperature in the Pacific Ocean have any effect on what is happening in the Caribbean, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico? The answer is wind. The El Niño conditions cause fierce winds that blow westward across the Caribbean and Atlantic. These bodies of water are prime location for hurricanes to form and end up hitting Florida. However, hurricanes are interrupted by vertical wind shear, that is why when El Niño is in effect, fewer hurricane activity occurs in the Caribbean, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
On the other hand, during a La Niña phase, the vertical wind shear is lowered and cannot interrupt the formation of hurricanes in the Caribbean, Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico. With a La Niña period starting in 2020, we can expect it to last at least through the spring season. Experts are predicting the period to shift into neutral from the end of Spring through June, but model forecasts tend to be less accurate during the Spring season, so the verdict is really in the air.
To get more information and resources on these climate cycles or to get the latest news on ENSO, you can visit the National Weather Service and click on their ENSO page.
Will 2021 Be as Active as 2020?
If La Niña has not subsided by June, the 2021 season will more than likely be as active, or more active, than 2020. The Colorado State Tropical Meteorology Project will be releasing their formal 2021 season forecast on April 8, 2021. Until then, we can keep our fingers crossed that 2021 will give us a break and not be as active.
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