Welcome to our fourteenth year of daily reports for the Atlantic basin, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico storm season and my thirteenth year resolutely declaring that this will be my last. Nobody believed me on any of the previous occasions, but I’ll say it again anyway.
New readers will be horrified at the length of this email. Please rest assured that this is by far the most I would expect anyone to read, being a brief summary of 2020 and forecast with explanation for 2021. You will be relieved to know that we normally get the daily report done in a paragraph or two.
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This started life as a daily, very brief, easy-to-read and when appropriate, light-hearted bulletin for the energy team at the Munich Re syndicate. As more colleagues asked to be added, we began to receive requests from third parties, brokers initially, then other underwriters. Now we have a wide range of addressees including offshore operators, superyacht Captains and owners, fishermen, drillers and seafarers. Two years ago I was contacted by a Police Officer in Georgia who has apparently been an avid reader for some years and wanted to thank me for the pleasant weather on the day of her husband’s funeral. Happy to do my bit, Ma’am.
For the benefit of regular readers and indeed newcomers, I make it absolutely clear with the cynicism of a true seafarer, that I don’t trust weather forecasts and nor should you, least of all mine. I have spent far too much time at sea being chucked about like a deckhand’s mop in utter misery, sometimes up to my knees in green water, being assured over the air by someone behind a distant desk, that I am having a bright, sunny and calm day. We simply look at weather maps and filter the opinion of various professional agencies, smart analysts and vile weather enthusiasts and produce a regurgitated opinion. We check the overnight charts each morning and then the early reports from the US agencies around midday then produce our own, which usually then goes out early in the afternoon UK time. The nominal start to the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico season is June 1st and ends on November 30th. Last year, that was stretched at both ends. The last few seasons have all had an early start hence this summary is being published in time for the beginning of May. Once ANA appears, we’ll begin our daily bulletin. Thereafter, for every day throughout the season, our aim is to provide a daily simple, plainly worded and – one hopes – reasonably accurate forecast.
While many addressees are in the business of managing risk and its financial impact, I think it appropriate to also reflect on human cost at the start and close of each season, a reminder of our own frailty (if this past year we need one) in the face of natural catastrophe.
I normally kick off this forecast with a summary of last year’s season and the Butcher’s Bill. The unprecedented number of storms made the summary a very lengthy report indeed, so I will spare the reader this year. If anyone would like to wade through it, please email me and I will send a copy.
I would briefly touch on the Butcher’s Bill. I finally rang down Finished With Engines on the 2020 season on 7th December. At that time, some 100 souls were reported to have lost their lives. It was several months until the final numbers were collated from areas of central America which had been hit cruelly hard, bringing the figure to a heartbreaking 432 deaths directly attributable to the storm season. A humanitarian disaster by any measure. A reported 100 perished in 2019. In 2018, a death toll of 119 was recorded, preceded by a dreadful estimated 867 deaths in 2017. Joseph Conrad once said “I have known the sea too long to believe in its respect for decency. An elemental force is ruthlessly frank” I live in hope that we can prove him wrong one day.
I have made plain my disdain for long-range forecasts and fourteen years of this has taught me that I’m no smarter now than I was when I was dodging storms for a living. The old adage of the more that I learn, the less I know, has never been so true. I have been unfairly accused of accuracy in two of the past three years. It is neither my intention or desire to be accurate with season’s figures but with some pressure from readers, and with more than a whiff of suspicion that there are some sweepstakes being held, I’ll take a stab at an annual forecast.
First, water temperatures in the neighbouring Pacific have a vital bearing on the season on our side of the fence. Warm Pacific waters (El Niño) = thunderstorms in the far east Pacific = increased wind shear = inhibited tropical development in the Atlantic = Good news. Conversely, cool Pacific waters (La Niña) = falling air in the far east Pacific = decreased wind shear = aggressive storm development in the Atlantic. Bad news. Pacific water temperatures are slightly below normal. Slightly bad news. There is some speculation that these will rise slightly. A little too much ‘slightly’ in there. Not enough to convince me, I’m afraid.
Secondly, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean water temperatures have a bearing on the season’s productivity. Rising air is the engine for storm development. Warm water is the fuel. Water temperatures across the entire reporting region, including the production line across the convergence zone from West Africa to the Caribbean are well above normal. Bad news.
Increasing uncertainty based on freak weather becoming less freak and more mainstream has had the modellers all over the place for this year’s forecast. I always like to look at Colorado State University at this time of year for sound reasoning. CSU is predicting 17 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes. They have expressed a slight increase in Pacific water temperature later in the season, a passion killer for lusty storms towards the autumn, but I think that’s rather tenuous, so have disregarded that.
On the basis of one guess being as good as any other, my reluctant prediction is for 19 named storms, 9 hurricanes and 5 major hurricanes. As ever, I hope this is a wild overestimation.
Names this year are ANA, BILL, CLAUDETTE, DANNY, ELSA, FRED, GRACE, HENRI, IDA, JULIAN, KATE, LARRY, MINDY, NICHOLAS, ODETTE, PETER, ROSE, SAM, THERESA (my season end), VICTOR and WANDA – which we all hope will be a fish storm, of course. Greek characters will no longer be used if the season passes the end of the list, to avoid confusion with storms which racked up in 2020. A supplementary list has been produced which begins ADRIA, BRAYLEN, CARIDAD and DESHAWN. I feel typing the entire list ending with WILL would be `seriously tempting providence.
Many of you will be aware that I draw information from a number of sources, varying from the reliable agencies such as the UK Met Office, a couple of Europeans and of course many US, particularly military, sources. In quiet times, I occasionally share a snippet from one of the more eccentric storm enthusiasts who can always be relied upon to see a cumulus cloud and predict Armageddon. One such observer is the Canadian guy, or ‘Blind Sniper’, who seems to have acquired a popular following amongst you over the years, judging from feedback received. He has had the odd success and cannot be totally disregarded, but has only been generally remarkable by fairly consistent inaccuracy. Last year, for the fourth year in a row, he tracked a storm which would have passed directly over my home in south-east England, giving me some cause to suspect that he is on to me and knows where I live.
Thanks to the many of you who read our daily blurb who have sent kind messages of thanks and feedback at the end of the 2020 season, particularly the growing Blind Sniper Fan Club. Always much appreciated. I think we have replied to all, as indeed we endeavour to do throughout the season. Please note that I can only access incoming mail replies to the daily report when I am in London but I often travel, which may mean a delayed reply, or they are simply submerged by e-mail flotsam which comes in with every internet tide.
I should add here that views expressed in these reports are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Syndicate.
Here we go again, then. The 2021 Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico storm season.
Stand By Engines.