After A Record Start, Tropical Activity in the Atlantic Has Fizzled in the Last Few Weeks

Written by Dustin Maddox, Meteorologist

Last updated 7/31/2021, 8:02:22 PM

In a span of just 5 weeks, 5 named storms formed in the Atlantic. Ana was named the last week of May. Bill, Claudette, and Danny were named in June. And Elsa was named on July 1. Since then, no systems have formed in the Atlantic.

When Elsa was named on July 1, it was the earliest forming fifth named storm of the season on record for the Atlantic, beating out Edouard on July 6 of just last year. But since then, the Atlantic has gone very quiet. The question is why? And how long will it stay that way? The first question is fairly simple to answer but the second question is a bit more uncertain.

The main reason for lack of tropical activity in the last few weeks over the Atlantic is a change in a global climate system causing air to sink over the Atlantic basin, therefore suppressing tropical development. The lack of activity in the Atlantic is causing an uptick in development for the Pacific Ocean - both east and west. The technical name for this atmospheric condition causing air to rise in one region of the world and descend in others is known as the Madden-Julian oscillation (MJO). Also, tropical development in the Atlantic is being suppressed due to strong vertical wind shear across most of the basin that prevents large areas of thunderstorms from developing and sustaining themselves.

Another factor contributing to the lack of activity is a large area of dry, dusty air that comes off the continent of Africa known as the Saharan Air Layer (SAL). While this is very common to see in July, the amount and size of it this month has been more than usual. See map above for current SAL courtesy of UW-CIMMS/NOAA-HRD. Yellow and Orange colors are less dust and Red, Pink, and White are increasingly more dry and dusty conditions. Going forward, it appears these conditions will persist for the next 7-10 days. Indications are that in about 2 weeks as we head towards the middle of August, tropical activity in the Atlantic will begin to pick up. The average peak for tropical activity in the Atlantic is September 10.

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