Hurricane season is one of the biggest events for the National Guard every year, and 2020 was no exception. The COVID-19 pandemic may have overshadowed hurricane season, but that didn’t stop the Guard from activating for nine tropical weather systems, four of which made landfall as Category 2 or stronger storms.
To get a sense of what 2021 may hold for the Atlantic basin, Military Times spoke with hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University. Every December, Klotzbach’s research team releases a discussion of factors that influence the amount of energy available for tropical cyclones.
Klotzbach’s team will release a more detailed forecast in April that includes a projected number of storms, but their initial look says the Guard may stay busy in 2021.
“One of the big reasons why we think the odds favor an above average season at this point is that we currently have a moderate La Niña event [in the eastern Pacific],” explained Klotzbach in a phone interview. La Niña means cooler Pacific water temperatures, which in turn reduces upper-level winds that “basically tear apart” Atlantic storms.
But even if a season has more storms and stronger storms, he said, “We can’t say where the storms are going to go…it’s all about location, location, location.” Klotzbach characterized the risk to military bases in the South as one of luck. “The odds are very low that any one installation would be hit in any year...[but] over 30 years, over 50 years –– those odds grow tremendously.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.