Skip to main content

Earth from Orbit: Tropical Storm Claudette Batters Southeastern US

June 24, 2021

This past weekend, NOAA satellites closely monitored Tropical Storm Claudette, the third named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Claudette slammed into the Gulf and southeastern coasts of the U.S., causing severe damage in parts of the Deep South. The storm was officially named on June 19 after it organized and strengthened near the town of Houma in southeastern Louisiana. It is the fifth-earliest third-named storm to form in the Atlantic basin since 1950. 

As the storm moved inland, Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang reported that “Claudette produced a storm surge of two to three feet above normally dry land from southeastern Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle,” resulting in flooding and impassable areas. Over the course of the weekend, the storm’s maximum sustained wind speeds reached 45 mph with higher gusts that felled trees and caused torrential rainfall. Claudette strengthened immediately after landfall, then weakened into a depression as it moved inland and northeast. On Monday, Claudette re-intensified into a tropical storm near North Carolina’s coast. In all, the storm caused at least a dozen deaths and 20 injuries.

So far in 2021, three tropical storms have formed in the Atlantic—Ana, Bill, and Claudette— with Claudette being the first one to make landfall on U.S. soil. Additionally, four tropical storms developed in the Eastern Pacific—Andres, Blanca, Carlos, and Dolores.  NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is predicting another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season in 2021, giving a 60% chance of an above-normal season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season, and a 10% chance of a below-normal season. 

However, experts do not anticipate the historic level of storm activity seen in 2020. For 2021, NOAA experts expect these following ranges with a 70% confidence: 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph to 73 mph); six to 10 hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher); and three to five major hurricanes (Category 3, 4, or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher). This year, NOAA updated the statistics used to determine when the Atlantic hurricane season is above-, near-, or below-average relative to the latest climate record. Based on this update, an average hurricane season now produces 14 named storms, of which 7 become hurricanes, including 3 major hurricanes.

Satellites have drastically changed how we forecast and monitor tropical cyclones. NOAA’s geostationary satellites, GOES-16 (GOES East) and GOES-17 (GOES West), monitor severe weather and other atmospheric phenomena in near-real time. Their orbits keep them above the same area as the Earth rotates, allowing them to observe weather events over time. The information they collect helps provide valuable insight for meteorologists who study these storms and track their movements. Specialized imagery that combines data from multiple channels on the satellites’ Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument also allows us to look for atmospheric “triggers” for other severe weather events such as tornadoes, flash floods, and hail storms.

NOAA’s polar-orbiting satellites, NOAA-20 and NOAA/NASA Suomi-NPP, also help us monitor storms. They orbit our planet much closer to the surface than the geostationary satellites, and can collect more detailed imagery and information as they pass over areas of interest twice a day. They provide remarkable advances in hurricane forecasting as well as new technology to track the location, movement, and intensity of storms.

Stay tuned to the National Hurricane Center for the latest information on tropical storm and hurricane activity.