What to expect of Atlantic hurricane season 2021

Hurricane Irma during Atlantic Hurricane Season 2020

Andrew Devereux Associate Analyst

Each year, between the months of June and November, the operational and security risks across the Caribbean and the wider Atlantic basin are elevated by increased hurricane activity. The operational disruption and potential risk to life and assets pose additional considerations for both businesses and individuals. In 2021, these risks have been complicated further by the domestic and international restrictions which remain in place to stem transmissions of Covid-19.

A look back on the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active on record, with 30 named storms, 13 hurricanes and six major hurricanes (measuring category three or above on the Saffir-Simpson scale), surpassing forecasts for the season. The most active month was September, which is a common occurrence as it coincides with the climatological peak. The season was notable for the formation of two strong hurricanes during the latter end of the season – the first time the two strongest storms in a season were recorded during the month of November. Hurricane Eta and Iota were recorded as a category four and a category five respectively and primarily impacted the Central Americas region. Hurricane Eta was notable owing to its erratic passage, which included making landfall over the US three times after initially weakening, before making passage over Central America. Over 211 fatalities were recorded, with the highest casualty figures in Honduras and Guatemala, while over $7 billion worth of damage was caused. The impact of Hurricane Eta only increased the damage caused by Hurricane Iota less than two weeks later, with ravaged parts of Honduras and Nicaragua sustaining further damage, while a further 52 people were killed across the two countries.

2021 Atlantic hurricane season forecast

Although predicting the intensity of a hurricane season is difficult to achieve, numerous meteorological agencies have predicted an above-average season in 2021, with 7-10 hurricanes and 3-5 major hurricanes commonly predicted. Although numerous metrics are taken into account, two of the main factors taken into consideration are the absence of the El Niño weather phenomenon and above-average water temperatures, both of which are conducive to the formation of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. More accurate forecasting on potential strength and passage of a storm is available once a hurricane begins to form. The 2021 hurricane season has the additional complication of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic requires additional precautionary measures to be in place for governments, businesses and individuals. State-level agencies need to ensure disaster contingency measure include considerations for Covid-19, such as social distancing and additional PPE in any relief centres, while individuals need to take into account additional personal medical considerations. Any evacuation plans are complicated by the additional medical and operational requirements needed to rapidly complete any international travel.

Business continuity and traveller advice

Prior to hurricane season

  • Review evacuation plans: Ensure actionable evacuation plans are in place, including the temporarily scaling down of on-site work and moving both staff and assets.
  • Identify evacuation triggers: Establish your company’s risk tolerance and confirm evacuation plans accordingly.
  • Establish business continuity plans: This can include storage of assets, working from home procedures and protecting work sites.

Preparation for hurricane season

  • Monitor local weather warnings: Both local weather forecasts and international organisation such as the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) will give advance warning in the event of a storm forming.
  • Maintain a ‘grab bag’: Staff should pack a grab bag of essential supplies which allows them to be self-sufficient for 72 hours.
  • Confirm emergency response protocols: Ensure staff are aware of the internal communication channels to use in the event of a major hurricane.
  • Actively monitor Covid-related restrictions: Ensure all evacuation plans and contingency measures remain viable under any domestic restrictions.

In case of an impending storm

  • Identify a viable shelter: The safest location is in interior rooms on the second floor of a robust building away from windows.
  • Establish whether evacuation measures need to be actioned: Quickly decide whether those in the passage of the storm should evacuate or stand fast.
  • Follow all directives issued by authorities: This includes road closures, mandatory evacuations and any other directives.
  • Anticipate operational disruption: Disruption to power and utilities is possible; alternative power supplies, adequate supplies of water, food and fuel, and back-up communication methods should be in place.
  • Review the safety of all post-storm journeys: Ensure vehicles are safe for the terrain, check routes remain passable, plan contingency routes and never attempt to pass through floodwaters.

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