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NOAA predicts ‘near or below normal’ 2021 hurricane season in Central Pacific

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 5:50 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Central Pacific is expected to see two to five named tropical cyclones from June through November ― for a “near to below normal” hurricane season in term of activity, the National Weather Service announced Wednesday.

There’s an 80% chance of a “near to below normal” season, officials said.

“This is not a prediction of hurricane landfalls,” said Christopher Brenchley, director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. “It only takes one direct hit.”

Tropical cyclones include tropical depressions, storms, and hurricanes.

The outlook is meant to give residents an idea of how busy the hurricane season will be. The season in the Central Pacific runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

Forecasters said sea surface temperatures are “neutral,” meaning that there is neither a La Nina or El Nino climate pattern, when those temperatures are either below normal or above normal.

Sea surface temperatures are also below normal in the far eastern North Pacific, where many tropical cyclones are spawned.

Last year, forecasters also predicted a “near to below” normal hurricane season, with two to six tropical cyclones. By the end of the season, two named tropical cyclones had ventured into Hawaii waters.

But one of those ― Hurricane Douglas ― had the state on edge in July.

[Get prepared for hurricane season. Visit the HNN Hurricane Center for preparation tips and more.]

It grew into a powerful Category 4 hurricane over the open ocean and forecast models had it passing right over the state. It eventually missed the islands by just a few dozen miles.

And despite not making landfall, Douglas still made its way into the record books, becoming the closest hurricane to pass Oahu to the north since official record keeping began in the 1950s.

Officials say the episode underscores a point they try to make every year: It only takes one.

“Last year, Hurricane Douglas threatened every county in the state of Hawaii,” said Gov. David Ige, in Wednesday’s outlook call.

“We were fortunate that the path changed, but we must be prepared for what the new hurricane season brings to us. As we approach June, we really have to ramp up our preparations.”

Scientists said climate change is not affecting the number of storms, but is having an impact on how strong they get.

“Climate change has been positively linked to an increase in the number of category 4 and 5 storms -- so once a storm forms it can get to that higher level of intensity,” said Matthew Rosencrans of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

“Climate change has also been linked to a 3% increase in the amount of rainfall from any given storm, as well as a slightly further north portion of when the storm will actually turn, from south to north, and kind of take on and become less tropical,” he added.

Last year’s hurricane season was also impacted by the pandemic, as emergency officials were confronted with making evacuation shelters compatible with social distancing guidelines. That was eased somewhat by a lack of tourists when Douglas made its close pass last July.

Social distancing will likely still be required at shelters this year. But Luke Meyers of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency noted, “One of the big changes that we’re going to have this summer versus last summer is that we’re going to have a lot of visitors here to the state.”

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