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Hurricane Dorian seen on Sept. 2, 2019. Photo: NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday updated its 2021 Atlantic hurricane seasonal forecast, slightly increasing expectations for the number of named storms and powerful hurricanes.

Why it matters: With the U.S. already reeling from extreme heat and wildfires, disaster response agencies are overstretched. A particularly destructive and active hurricane season could overwhelm some of its response capacity.

Details: The updated forecast is based on conditions observed across the North Atlantic Ocean basin, including sea surface temperatures, upper-level winds, rainfall in West Africa, and the potential development of another La Niña event in the tropical Pacific, among other factors.

  • This hurricane season comes in the wake of the North Atlantic basin's most active season on record, with 30 named storms occurring in 2020, 11 of which struck the U.S., setting a benchmark.

By the numbers: NOAA is forecasting a 65% chance of an above-average season, with a 70% probability of 15–21 named storms. Of these named storms, NOAA is predicting that 7–10 will be hurricanes and 3–5 will be major hurricanes of Category 3, 4 or 5 strength.

  • These numbers reflect the five named storms that have already formed this season, including the earliest fifth-named storm on record for the Atlantic basin (Hurricane Elsa).
  • While the season has slowed its pace since the early storms, NOAA meteorologist Matthew Rosecrans said that quiet is not likely to remain.
  • "NOAA forecasters do anticipate that a busy hurricane season lies ahead," Rosecrans said.
  • NOAA typically updates its outlook as the peak of the hurricane season during August, September and October begins.

Flashback: Of the 30 named storms last year, 13 were hurricanes, and seven were "major" hurricanes of at least Category 3 intensity.

  • The hardest-hit region last year was the Gulf Coast, particularly central and western Louisiana, where two hurricanes struck land within 25 miles of each other at different points in the season.

Yes, but: NOAA did not cite climate change in this outlook.

  • However, climate change's influence on tropical cyclones, which is the general term for tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons, is increasingly detectable, according to scientific studies. Nearly a dozen of the storms in the Atlantic Ocean last year underwent a process known as rapid intensification, leaping across several intensity categories in a matter of hours.
  • In a warming world, more frequent bouts of rapid intensification are expected.
  • In addition, hurricanes are now moving more slowly, and they may be weakening more slowly once they cross over land. They're also dropping more rainfall than they used to, thanks to the added moisture from warmer ocean and air temperatures.
  • Other forecasting groups that issue seasonal outlooks have unanimously called for an above-average season, though not as busy as 2020 was. These include Colorado State University, AccuWeather and Penn State University.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest.

Why it matters: The atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, was causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood, as it slowly moved south overnight. It's triggered widespread power outages, flooding and mudslides.

The hard math behind America's labor shortage

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Congressional Budget Office; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, the pandemic has created unusual temporary labor market dynamics. But in the bigger picture, the 2010s were a golden age for companies seeking cheap labor. The 2020s are not.

The big picture: In the 2010s, the massive millennial generation was entering the workforce, the massive baby bo0m generation was still hard at work, and there was a multi-year hangover from the deep recession caused by the global financial crisis.

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.