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Emergency Management May 25, 2021

What Businesses Need to Know About Hurricane Season 2021

In this post, we take a look at the experts’ predictions for 2021, what it means for your business, and hear from AlertMedia’s in-house meteorologist, Jason Moreland, about what your organization can do to prepare for yet another “above average” hurricane season.

The past 15 months have been anything but ordinary, testing the resiliency of organizations worldwide. So, for many organizations—and their employees tasked with maintaining emergency preparedness and response initiatives—the start of the North Atlantic hurricane season, which begins June 1 (that’s next week), is likely something they could just as soon do without.

Luckily, there’s still time to prepare. And based on what occurred last hurricane season in the middle of a 100-year pandemic, early preparation is essential to minimizing the impact on your people and business.

In this post, we take a look at the experts’ predictions for 2021, what it means for your business, and hear from AlertMedia’s in-house meteorologist, Jason Moreland, about what your organization can do to prepare for yet another “above average” hurricane season.

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Access Our On-Demand 2021 Hurricane Preparedness Webinar

Hear from AlertMedia’s in-house Meteorologist Jason Moreland and VP of Global Threat Intelligence Sara Pratley about what to expect this hurricane season and how to prepare your business.

What Experts Are Forecasting for the 2021 Hurricane Season

On April 8, Dr. Phil Klotzbach and the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University (CSU) released their initial outlook for the 2021 hurricane season. The message is straightforward: prepare for yet another very active season with a large number of named storms. There is a silver lining, though—it appears that 2021 will be slightly less active than last year’s record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season.

For 2021, the team at CSU predicts 17 named storms, eight hurricanes, and four major hurricanes. The Weather Company predicts an even more active season with 19 named storms, eight hurricanes, and four major hurricanes. Finally, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a range of 13 to 20 named storms, of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes, including 3 to 5 major hurricanes. NOAA provides these ranges with a 70% confidence. All three of these expert forecasts all have one thing in common: they are above the new 30-year average.

What is an “average” hurricane season?

Prior to 2021, meteorologists used hurricane data from 1981-2010 for its 30-year average, which serves as a baseline for expected activity during a given hurricane season. The previous averages, anticipated 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes during an “average” hurricane season.

Beginning in 2021, the new average hurricane season is defined using data from a more recent 30-year period spanning 1991-2020. This new data anticipates 14 named storms, seven of those named storms becoming hurricanes, and of those seven hurricanes, three become major hurricanes (a major hurricane is defined as a category 3, 4, or 5 storm with sustained winds of 111 mph or higher). So, you can see the increase in what is considered a “normal” hurricane season.

A Meteorologist’s Perspective

If your head is swimming with numbers, fear not. AlertMedia’s own expert, meteorologist Jason Moreland, did a Q&A session to help make sense of these projections and provide valuable insight into what organizations can do to prepare.

Jason has more than eight years of extensive domestic, international, and offshore forecasting experience. Providing critical decision support to live event venues as well as sensitive utility and offshore projects ahead of impending hazardous weather has been a common focus of his career to date.

How are storms classified in terms of named storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes?

Jason Moreland: For a storm to fall into the category of “named storm,” it needs to have a closed surface circulation. In addition, there needs to be a well-defined thunderstorm surrounding a center with sustained winds in excess of 40 miles per hour.

A storm becomes a Category 1 hurricane once the wind speeds reach 74 miles per hour. The higher the wind speed, the greater the category. Category 3 hurricanes, which have wind speeds greater than or equal to 111 miles per hour, and up are considered “major hurricanes.”

Do Colorado State University and NOAA collaborate in any way to come up with these forecasts, or do they independently analyze weather patterns to make their own conclusions?

JM: While there is no collaboration between the two organizations, they generally come to similar conclusions. For example, they may not predict the same number of named storms, hurricanes, major hurricanes, etc., but when it comes to determining whether a hurricane season will be below average, average, above average, or hyperactive, the vast majority of the time there is a uniform agreement between these two major organizations.

Was there anything that stuck out to you about the predictions for this year’s hurricane season?

JM: This year, CSU calculated the chances of each state being impacted by a named storm, hurricane, and major hurricane. In previous years, these percentages were for vast regions like Gulf Coast, Caribbean, US Eastern Seaboard, etc. For example, CSU predicts that Florida is the most likely state in the U.S. to be impacted by a major hurricane, followed by Louisiana (23%) and Texas (21%). You can view the full list of these calculations here.

Also, while this isn’t necessarily a prediction, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) announced it will begin issuing the Atlantic Tropical Weather Outlook starting on the morning of May 15. This is due to the prevalence of Tropical Cyclones forming during the month of May over the past several years.

Can you explain El Niño and La Niña and how they impact hurricane season?

JM: El Niño episodes are characterized by warmer than average sea surface temperatures across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. As a result, El Niño episodes tend to enhance tropical rainfall within the Pacific while producing more wind shear and dry, sinking air across the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. Such conditions are unfavorable for Atlantic tropical storms and hurricane formation. Conversely, La Niña episodes tend to produce inverse effects, including more favorable conditions for Atlantic hurricanes.

During the peak of the 2021 hurricane season, neither El Niño nor La Niña is expected. Still, the remnant atmospheric footprint of a La Niña episode earlier in the year and a lack of a developing El Niño is likely to provide a net boost for Atlantic hurricane activity.

Are there any other factors that can impact hurricane season?

JM: Warm waters serve as a fuel source for tropical storms and hurricanes. As of mid-May, sea surface temperatures are running above normal throughout much of the Gulf, Caribbean, and Atlantic. Water temperatures aren’t quite as warm as they could be across the Main Development Region, which includes the Atlantic between the Caribbean Lesser Antilles and the coast of Africa. However, long-range forecast models indicate that increasingly warm anomalies could develop over the summer.

When are hurricane advisories issued?

JM: As per National Hurricane Center (NHC) policy, public advisories for Atlantic tropical cyclones are normally issued every six hours at 5:00 AM EDT, 11:00 AM EDT, 5:00 PM EDT, and 11:00 PM EDT.

Public advisories are typically issued once a disturbance has formed a closed wind circulation and a well-defined center. By this stage, the disturbance may be upgraded to a Tropical Depression. Depressions are then upgraded to a Tropical Storm and given a name if and when sustained winds reach 39mph. In 2017, the NHC began a new product known as Potential Tropical Cyclone Advisories for disturbances that have yet to become a depression or named storm but could threaten land as a tropical storm or hurricane within 48 hours.

Any advice you’d like to offer to readers?

JM: Not every season is going to be like 2020. But it doesn’t take a record-setting season to impact businesses and employee safety. Don’t be complacent. A lot of people will hear about these seasonal forecasts and brush it off until there is that Category 3 hurricane forming in the Gulf of Mexico. By then, it’s too late to come up with a well-organized plan—especially when you have a business and employees you care about.

Also, if the first third of the season happens to be relatively quiet, don’t let your guard down. Active hurricane seasons have occurred following fairly lackluster periods of activity in June, July, and early August.

Even if the season as a whole defies active expectations, it only takes one devastating hurricane to make it a bad year. In 1992, the first of only four hurricanes wasn’t declared until August 22nd. That hurricane was Andrew, which resulted in 65 deaths and is one of the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history.

What Businesses Can Do to Prepare for Hurricane Season

While 2021 is forecasted to be slightly less severe than last year, it is still important for businesses everywhere—not just those in coastal areas—to create and maintain a hurricane preparedness plan. And even then, several steps must be completed for organizations to navigate a hurricane successfully:

  1. Early detection – You need to detect the threat early on. Effective responses do not come together overnight. The best organizations have approaching storms on their radar days ahead of landfall.
  2. Identify those at risk – As the storm nears, you need to identify which employees and assets are at risk. Multiple factors go into this calculation, but the most important is the location of your employees in relation to the storm’s trajectory. With more and more employers allowing their employees to work remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a step that should be carefully considered.
  3. Communicate and execute – Once it is time to act, you need to be able to communicate quickly with the relevant audience and execute your plan.

Using AlertMedia to Monitor and Respond to Hurricanes

A modern emergency communication solution, like AlertMedia, allows you to complete all of these steps using a single, easy-to-use platform.

Get ahead of hurricanes with analyst-verified intelligence

AlertMedia’s team of in-house analysts work around the clock to monitor thousands of data sources, filter out the noise, and deliver only the most relevant view of hurricanes that may impact your people and business.

Identify your at-risk employees with a robust threat assessment engine

The threat assessment engine will quantify the impact of the threat (which employees and offices are in the path of the storm)—and automatically update this impact assessment as the storm changes. For example, perhaps you have offices and remote employees in multiple locations near the Gulf Coast. As the path of the hurricane changes, real-time threat intelligence and impact assessments will help you rapidly identify those in harm’s way to ensure they are informed and prepared.

Execute your hurricane response with the most innovative emergency communications software

When it comes time to communicate with your people—whether it be office closures or regional evacuations—AlertMedia makes sure that the critical message is delivered to the correct audience and read as quickly as possible. For example, Moss Construction used AlertMedia to communicate with their dispersed workforce when Hurricane Lane threatened Hawaii in 2018. Moss had several construction job sites and solar projects ongoing throughout the islands at the time, with hundreds of workers spread across the islands.

Using AlertMedia, Moss sent out multichannel notifications to employees in the hurricane’s path to keep them informed of the latest storm updates. Moss also set up an event page within AlertMedia to house all storm-related information, including hurricane preparation resources. A few hours before the hurricane was to hit, Moss sent a survey notification to employees to confirm storm readiness. This allowed Moss to rapidly identify four employees that felt they were ill-prepared for the storm. Immediately, the organization was able to connect with and get these employees and their families into a hotel.

The Bottom Line

Hurricane season 2021 is officially here. And it comes with the very unwelcome prediction of being an “above average” season, meaning organizations everywhere need to be prepared for the worst. By heeding the advice of experts and deploying a modern emergency communications solution like AlertMedia, you can equip your organization to take hurricane season in stride.

Hurricane Preparation and Response Checklist

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