Another active hurricane season comes to a quiet close
The 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season was the third most active on record, and the third time the full list of designated storm names was exhausted. Despite the above normal activity, Florida was largely spared significant impacts and the last two months of the season were strikingly quiet.
There were 21 tropical storms, 7 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes this year in the Atlantic basin. All of these numbers were above their 30-year average, but well short of the historic tallies from 2020. The storms accumulated 145 units of cyclone energy. which is also above the average of 121.5. Most of this energy was produced in the first four months of the year, and as Colorado State Meteorologist Dr. Phil Klotzbach pointed on Twitter, there has been a rare absence of cyclone energy globally since late October.
The globe has generated just 19 ACE (Accumulated Cyclone Energy) over past 30 days (Oct 17 - Nov 15) - the lowest Accumulated Cyclone Energy for this period in satellite era (since 1966). ACE metric accounts for frequency, intensity & duration of tropical storms & #hurricanes. pic.twitter.com/2vL8OxpdNs— Philip Klotzbach (@philklotzbach) November 15, 2021
The season started a couple of weeks early on May 22, when Subtropical Storm Ana formed in the mid-Atlantic east-southeast of Bermuda. Ana was disorganized at first, but managed to develop more persistent convection near the center and became a tropical storm on May 23. Ana was confronted with wind shear and became extra-tropical as it passed by Bermuda on May 24.
In mid-June, an area of low pressure formed off the coastline of South Carolina. This low became better defined, and a tropical depression formed east-southeast of North Carolina on June 14. The depression strengthened into Tropical Storm Bill twelve hours later. Bill reached peak winds of 65 mph on June 15 while paralleling the Northeast coastline. Its northeast track soon brought the system over colder waters and into higher wind shear, resulting in Bill's transition to an extratropical cyclone on June 16. There were no reports of any damages or casualties associated with Bill.
On June 19, a potential tropical cyclone moved inland into Louisiana. Satellite imagery then revealed a well-defined surface circulation, and the system was upgraded to Tropical Storm Claudette. Claudette weakened into a tropical depression as it moved further inland, but not before producing heavy rain and tropical storm force winds across portions of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
Florida Impacts from Claudette
Stronger thunderstorms well to the east of Claudette's center produced damaging winds, flooding rains, rough surf, and tornadoes across the western Florida Panhandle. Gusts at Pensacola International Airport peaked at 81 mph, and wind damage was reported throughout the metro area. Brief periods of sustained tropical storm-force winds were also experienced along the Emerald Coast. A storm surge of 6–12 ft flooded beaches and roadways in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Rainfall along Claudette's path across the Florida Panhandle was in the 3 to 6-inch range, with a top amount of 6.2 in observed in Century, resulting in minor flooding. Several tornadoes were spawned by Claudette, including an EF-2 tornado that caused major damage and injured 20 people in Alabama. The system caused 14 fatalities, all in Alabama. Claudette re-strengthened into a tropical storm as it moved across North Carolina and into the Atlantic, before degenerating into a trough of low pressure on June 22.
Another tropical depression formed near the Carolinas on June 27. The depression later strengthened into Tropical Storm Danny southeast of Charleston. Danny slightly intensified just off the coast of South Carolina, reaching a maximum intensity with winds of 45 mph . On June 28, Danny made landfall just north of Hilton Head and quickly weakened into a tropical depression before moving further inland and dissipating over eastern Georgia June 29.
Tropical Storm Elsa formed near the Cape Verde islands July 1. Elsa became the earliest fifth-named storm on record. Elsa also became a tropical storm farther east in the Main Development Region (MDR) than any other tropical cyclone so early in the calendar year on record. Elsa slowly strengthened as it accelerated westward. Elsa was upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane on July 2, becoming the easternmost hurricane recorded in the MDR this early in the calendar year since 1933. Elsa also was the first storm to undergo rapid intensification in that part of the Atlantic that early in the calendar year since an unnamed storm in 1908. On July 5, Elsa made landfall on west-central Cuba and weakened slightly. On July 6, Elsa entered into the Gulf of Mexico and began to re-strengthen. On July 7, Elsa regained Category 1 hurricane intensity. A few hours later, wind shear and dry air caused Elsa to weaken back into a tropical storm before making landfall in Taylor County, Florida. Elsa continued to weaken after landfall, but remained at minimal tropical storm strength as part of its circulation remained over water along the coast of the Carolinas. Elsa then became a post-tropical cyclone July 9 over eastern Massachusetts.
Florida Impacts from Elsa
Elsa's rain bands began to affect Florida at around on July 5 while moving over from Cuba. In the Keys, Elsa dropped over 4.5 inches of rain at Key West International Airport and a top amount of 10.88 inches in Port Charlotte. Key West experienced a 70-mph wind gust and Sand Key reported a 64-mph wind gust. Elsa impacted animals on Anna Maria Island, where shorebird eggs and chicks were displaced, along with sea turtle nests. At the height of the storm, more than 14,000 customers were reported without power in Southwest Florida. A 2–3 ft storm surge was recorded in Tampa Bay, while a 1.6 ft surge was reported at Port Manatee and Clearwater Beach. Cedar Key experienced just over a foot of surge. On July 7, as the storm passed over the state and into Georgia, one person was killed in Jacksonville when a tree fell and struck two cars. A high-end EF-1 tornado also struck the eastern side of Jacksonville, causing significant structural and tree damage. Another seventeen were injured at a Georgia military base during a tornado, and Elsa's damages totalled at least $1.2 billion according to insurance estimates.
The rest of July was relatively quiet. Tropical Storm Fred formed August 11 and made landfall on the island of Hispaniola. As Fred moved over the island, it became disorganized due to the island's mountainous terrain, weakening it into a tropical depression. On August 14, wind shear and land interaction with Cuba caused Fred to degenerate into an open wave. However, Fred regenerated to a tropical storm and on August 16, Fred reached its peak intensity with winds of 65 mph and then made landfall near Cape San Bias, Florida.
Florida Impacts from Fred
More than 36,000 people lost electricity in Florida from Fred. Schools in Bay County, Okaloosa County and Santa Rosa County were immediately closed. 7 inches of rain fell in Panama City within 24 hours, while 9 inches of rain reportedly fell in Southport, where serious flooding was evident. Several water rescues were carried out, where many were rescued from their flooded homes. No injuries reported. Also, in Panama City, a downed power line fell on top of a car with a man inside, trapping the man until he was rescued and hospitalized. President Biden approved the issuance of a state of emergency for 23 Florida counties in the state soon after landfall. Fred brought storm surge flooding across St. George Island, Cape San Blas, and Port St. Joe, while the road to Indian Pass was blocked after being covered with over 5 feet of water. The bridge to St. George Island was closed shortly after wind gusts at or near hurricane-force battered the island.
Fred began to weaken after as it accelerated north-northeastward through the Southeast. The system later produced several tornadoes across the Northeast as it moved up the Atlantic coast. One person died from a car accident due to hydroplaning in Bay County, Florida. In North Carolina, severe flooding led to the deaths of 5 people. The storm caused at least $1.3 billion in damages.
Around the same time Fred formed, Tropical Storm Grace formed near the Cabo Verde Islands. Grace weakened to a tropical depression on August 15. It later made landfall on Hispaniola then reorganized back to a tropical storm. Grace's intensity continued to increase and was upgraded it to a Category 1 hurricane. Grace made its first landfall in Mexico on August 19. Grace weakened into a tropical storm again while it crossed the Yucatan Peninsula. After moving offshore and into the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, Grace began re-strengthen, becoming a Category 1 hurricane once again. On August 21, Grace rapidly intensified to a Category 3 hurricane, becoming the first major hurricane of the season, peaking winds of 125 mph. The system made a second landfall in Mexico. It then rapidly weakened over the mountains of central Mexico and dissipated. The remnants of Grace traveled across Mexico and contributed to the development of Tropical Storm Marty in the Eastern Pacific. Grace was responsible for 14 deaths and $513 million in damages.
Activity continued to develop at a rapid pace in mid-August. Tropical Storm Henri formed near Bermuda on August 18. Then on August 21, Henri strengthened to a hurricane as the wind shear relaxed. The storm made landfall on August 22 on the Rhode Island coast. Shortly after landfall, Henri rapidly weakened. Coastal flooding and heavy rain on the storm's eastern side were the most notable impacts from Henri.
The storm that made the most headlines this year was Hurricane Ida. Ida formed August 26 as a tropical storm over the western Atlantic, then rapidly intensified into a Category 1 hurricane. Ida made landfall in Cuba two times on August 27. After crossing Cuba and entering the Gulf of Mexico, Ida entered a region of increasingly favorable conditions, which allowed the storm's structure to improve. Ida rapidly intensified into a Category 3 hurricane on August 29, and was upgraded to a Category 4 storm just an hour later. As Ida neared the Louisiana coast for landfall, it reached its peak intensity, with sustained wind speeds up to 150 mph. Ida tied the 1856 Last Island hurricane and Hurricane Laura as the strongest landfalling hurricanes on record in Louisiana.
Ida weakened slowly at first, remaining a dangerous major hurricane. As the storm moved further inland, Ida began to rapidly weaken. It dropped below hurricane strength on August 30 before weakening to a depression later that day. The system degenerated to a post-tropical cyclone two days later, as it moved over the central Appalachian Mountains. The extratropical low continued northeastward and stalled before being absorbed by another low developing to its east on September 4.
The storm caused widespread significant damage throughout coastal southeast Louisiana. Parts of the New Orleans were left without power for several weeks. Ida also triggered a tornado outbreak in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. As Ida moved to the Northeast, its remnants spawned several tornadoes, with some being damaging and powerful. Record rain and high-level flash flooding occurred through extensive portions of the Northeast. Ida was estimated to have caused at least $65 billion in damages and 95 deaths in the United States. The majority of those deaths occurred in Louisiana, New Jersey and New York.
Shortly after Hurricane Ida made landfall, Tropical Storm Kate formed near the Cape Verde Islands. However, strong west-northwesterly wind shear led to Kate's demise and the storm dissipated by September 1.
Unlike Kate, Hurricane Larry was a strong and long-lived Cape Verde storm. Larry originated from a tropical wave that emerged off the coast of Africa, where it became a tropical storm on September 1. The storm continued to strengthen, and became a Category 1 Hurricane on September 2nd. In the days to follow, Larry underwent a period of rapid intensification, and was the fourth storm of the season to do so. By September 5th, Larry was a Category 3 Hurricane, producing 125 mph winds. After that, the storm continued on a northward track over the open ocean, and began to weaken. Larry made landfall in Newfoundland on September 11th and was the first hurricane to do so since Igor in 2010.
Tropical Storm Mindy developed in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico on September 8th, after a broad area of low pressure meandered northward from Central America. Mindy made landfall shortly after becoming a tropical storm near St. Vincent Island, Florida, on September 9th. Rainfall totals of between 2 and 4 inches across the Big Bend were common, but a few places received nearly 6 inches from Mindy. Shortly after it made landfall, Mindy would weaken into a tropical depression. Mindy became post-tropical and merged with a cold front early on September 10th.
Hurricane Nicholas formed first in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm on September 12th, a product of a tropical wave that moved into the area from the Caribbean. By September 14th, a weather station at Matagorda Bay, Texas, reported sustained winds of 76 mph prompting the NHC to upgrade Nicholas to hurricane status. Less than three hours later, Hurricane Nicholas made landfall south of Houston, Texas. By September 15th, Nicholas weakened to a tropical depression and by the early morning hours on September 16th, became post-tropical. Nicholas brought damage to areas hit hard in 2017 by Hurricane Harvey, where up to 60 inches of rain fell in the Houston metro, and southwest Louisiana, where Hurricane Laura made landfall in 2020.
Tropical Storm Odette was a short lived tropical storm, forming off the North Carolina coastline on September 17th. Odette became an extratropical low just one day later. This system did not directly impact and land, however it did contribute to rough surf off the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.
Tropical Storm Peter was the 16th named storm of the season, forming east of the Bahamas and north of Puerto Rico early on September 19th. The disturbance that would eventually become the 17th named tropical system, Tropical Storm Rose, also developed on September 19th. Neither tropical systems lasted long or brought significant impact to the United States, but both systems were notable for how early in the season they developed. The naming of the 16th and 17th storms this early has only occurred during two other seasons: 2005 and 2020. Tropical Storm Peter and Rose were both impacted by strong upper levels winds, resulting in both of their eventual downgrade into remnant lows on September 23rd.
One of the strongest storms this season, which also spent its entire lifetime over water, was Hurricane Sam. Sam began as a tropical wave that ejected off of the West African Coast on September 19th. By September 21st, it organized into a depression and continued intensifying. The system became Tropical Storm Sam on September 23 over the lower latitudes of the Central Atlantic Ocean. Over the following few days, Sam underwent a period of rapid intensification as it tracked northeastward over open Atlantic waters. Sam became a hurricane on September 24th, a major Category 3 storm late September 25th, and a high end Category 4 hurricane on September 26th. Hurricane Sam underwent several eyewall replacement cycles, which caused it's intensity to fluctuate over the next week. Peak winds are estimated to have reached 150 mph during this time period. Sam held onto major hurricane status (Category 3+) until October 3rd. By October 4th, Sam’s cloud pattern began to degrade and it was eventually downgraded to a Category 1 later that day. The next day, Sam completed a dynamic extratropical transition, becoming a powerful post-tropical cyclone over the far North Atlantic between Newfoundland and Iceland.
Subtropical Storm Teresa developed from a non-tropical low southeast of Bermuda on September 23rd. The following day, an upper-level trough allowed the system to develop a well-defined center as the low produced gale-force winds on the north side of its circulation. Later that day, advisories were initiated on Subtropical Storm Teresa. Cool waters, dry air, and plenty of wind shear weakened the storm, prompting an eventual downgrade to a subtropical depression on September 25th. Six hours after that downgrade, Teresa became post-tropical as it degenerated into a remnant low.
Tropical Storm Victor formed south of the Cape Verde Islands on September 29th. As it moved westward, Victor maintained strength and became better organized. Victor reached peak intensity with winds of 65 mph on October 2nd. The system quickly entered an area of strong upper level winds and rapidly became more disorganized. Victor weakened into a depression on October 2nd and dissipated by October 4th.
Tropical Storm Wanda had an interesting start during the 2021 Hurricane Season. On October 24th, a powerful nor’easter developed off the U. S. East Coast, producing heavy rainfall, damaging winds, and coastal flooding from the Mid-Atlantic to New England during from the 25th to the 27th. This nor’easter led to more than a half-million power outages in homes and business across the Northeast and resulted in two storm-related fatalities. By Halloween, the powerful low had pushed into the Central Atlantic Ocean and acquired subtropical characteristics, where it earned the name Subtropical Storm Wanda. By November 1st, the system had undergone transformations such that meteorologists at National Hurricane Center declared it a tropical storm. Over the course of the next seven days, Tropical Storm Wanda meandered eastward over the Atlantic Ocean and began to near the Azores. Wanda interacted with a deepening mid-latitude low pressure system and began accelerating northeastward. At the same time, thunderstorm activity around the storm's center began decreasing. Wanda was deemed post-tropical by the NHC on November 7th.
Meteorologist Vanessa Alonso contributed to this report.
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