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Hurricane forecast predicts another busier-than-normal season

While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects this year's season to be above average, it likely won't reach the historic levels seen in 2020.
Image: Hurricane Laura Damage In Louisiana
Connor Theriot stands on the slab of foundation that once held his family's home in Cameron, Louisiana, on Aug. 30, 2020. (Photo by The Washington Post via Getty Images)Callaghan OHare / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

On the heels of 2020's record-breaking hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is warning that this year could once again be more active than normal.

NOAA issued its outlook for this year's Atlantic hurricane season on Thursday, predicting above-average activity but likely not at the historic levels seen last year.

The agency is forecasting a 70 percent chance of 13 to 20 named storms with winds of 39 mph or higher. Of those, six to 10 could become hurricanes, including three to five "major" hurricanes that reach Category 3 or higher, with winds of at least 111 mph.

Last month, NOAA adjusted how it classifies "average" hurricane seasons based on climate data from the past 30 years. According to the update, an average Atlantic hurricane season has 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

The hurricane season officially begins June 1, but acting NOAA Administrator Ben Friedman said people should not wait to take precautions.

"If you're in a hurricane zone, now is the time to ensure that you have an evacuation plan in place, disaster supplies on hand and a plan to secure your home quickly," he said Thursday in a news briefing.

NOAA's outlook appears to be consistent with other prominent forecasts for the upcoming hurricane season. Colorado State University, which typically releases the results of its models ahead of NOAA, is predicting 17 named storms with winds of 39 mph or higher. Of those, eight could become hurricanes, including four major hurricanes that reach Category 3 or higher.

NOAA's forecast hinges on several key factors, including above-average sea surface temperatures across much of the Atlantic Ocean, which can fuel storms.

The absence of the El Niño climate pattern will also likely play a role, said Matthew Rosencrans, who leads the hurricane season outlook at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. El Niño conditions influence climates around the world and typically increase wind shear in the Atlantic, which can tear hurricanes apart and disrupt major storms as they are forming.

Last year saw the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record, with 13 hurricanes and a total of 30 named storms. The hurricane season ends Nov. 30.

Rosencrans said that while this year's season is not expected to be as active as that of 2020, "it only takes one dangerous storm to devastate communities and lives."