Up to 20 named storms forecast for 2021 hurricane season, NOAA says. What it means for Louisiana
The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is predicted to be "above-normal," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday.
In the initial outlook for this year's storm season, NOAA predicts there would be about 13-20 named storms, six to hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes.
The average is 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes, according to NOAA's updated averages for the 1991-2020 30-year period.
Despite an expected above-average hurricane season, 2021 is not expected to be as active as 2020, said Matthew Rosencrans, lead meteorologist for the seasonal hurricane outlook from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
For hurricane-prone areas like the U.S. Gulf Coast, preparation is key, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said. She added FEMA will continue to work closely with the National Hurricane Center and state and local jurisdictions to prepare for the 2021 hurricane season.
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A few records were broken in the 2020 hurricane season in Louisiana — the most storms to make landfall in a single season (5), first eye to pass over New Orleans in over 50 years (Hurricane Zeta) and strongest hurricane to hit Louisiana in over a century (Laura)
Hurricane Laura was the costliest natural disaster of 2020, according to NOAA's State of Climate Report. Its approximate $19 billion in damage topped the 22 billion-dollar disasters last year, including wildfires and other severe weather events. Hurricanes Delta and Zeta, which also struck Louisiana, also made the list.
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Looking to 2021, NOAA and FEMA stressed the importance of preparing for hurricane season now. Here's what it means for Louisiana.
What NOAA predicts for Louisiana this hurricane season
Louisiana, still reeling from the aftermath of a devastating hurricane season, could be hit hard again by storm effects like surge and wind, Rosencrans said.
"Last year was an absolutely devastating year for many parts of southern Louisiana ... If you're in a coastal area, understand that you could be flooded by storm surge and high winds," he said. "And if you're inland, the heavy rain threat, especially in low-lying and very flat areas, freshwater flooding is very real and very hazardous."
NHC forecasters are now using an upgraded storm surge model that will help better predict storm wind structure and storm sides, said Ben Friedman, acting NOAA administrator.
In coastal locations, storm surge and high winds are the primary threat, Rosencrans said. Furthermore, in high-activity areas, landfalling hurricanes are more common, he said. There's about a 30% chance of landfall anywhere along the coast.
As far as Louisiana predictions go, forecasts, storm tracks and storm information for specific regions will be forecast by the National Hurricane Center about a week out, Rosencrans said.
While residents in hurricane-prone locations like Louisiana are encouraged to start preparing now for hurricane season, FEMA continues to work with the NHC to get residents the help they need.
When a storm has potential for landfall or impact, FEMA and NHC work together to make sure the right communication is being disseminated so all people in the affected area can prep accordingly, Criswell said.
Furthermore, Criswell said FEMA will continue to work with communities impacted by and recovering from disasters to help better prepare for future events.
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"One of the concerns we have all the time is the fragility of our infrastructure," Criswell said. "And we've seen that in certain parts of the country, it's certainly more fragile than others."
Asked about infrastructure in the Florida Keys, Criswell related FEMA's efforts to other disaster-prone areas as well.
"As we're seeing more storms, we're seeing more intense storms," she said. "Investing in this systemwide mitigation is going to make a big difference to help reduce the impacts from the storms because we're certainly not going to be able to stop the storms themselves."
The systemwide mitigation Criswell is referring to is a FEMA program designed to work with state and local officials to understand their needs and implement grant programs to help address them.
2021 Atlantic hurricane season storm tracker
See the latest storm developments here. If the tracker doesn't load, click here.
Daniella Medina is a digital producer for the USA TODAY Network. Follow her on Twitter @danimedinanews.