TAMPA, Fla. – When Elsa reached sustained winds of 85 mph last week, it became the strongest July storm in the Caribbean Sea since Hurricane Emily in 2005. Four days later, it would brush past the Tampa Bay coastline, dumping plenty of rain, but leaving the region mostly unscathed.
It was a hurricane that formed far earlier than forecasters anticipated, in during what is expected to be an above average Atlantic hurricane season. After last year’s record-breaking season with 30 named storms, are earlier storms the new normal?
“In general, early season Atlantic hurricane activity has very little correlation with overall Atlantic hurricane activity. But when this activity occurs in the tropics, that is typically a harbinger of a very active season,” said Phil Klotzbach, the lead researcher at Colorado State University, which updated its 2021 hurricane season predictions last week to include more storms. In April, the university predicted 17 named storms and eight hurricanes this year, but it increased its forecast to 20 named storms and nine hurricanes on Thursday.
Hurricane Elsa’s movement and formation was cited as one of the main reasons for the updated forecast, Klotzbach said.
Elsa became a hurricane south of the Tropic of Cancer in the Atlantic Ocean, which some researchers found concerning. A hurricane forming in this area before Aug. 1 has only occurred six times in recorded history. In each of those seasons, the National Hurricane Center would go on to classify the year as “hyperactive.”
Like last year, Klotzbach said the latest increase in projected storms was necessary because of conditions becoming more conducive for storm formation.