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Hurricane season could be 'active or extremely active'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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NOAA: Storms may carry oil into coast
  • NOAA predicts three to seven "major" hurricanes in the Atlantic
  • Hurricane season starts Tuesday
  • Unusually warm tropical Atlantic surface temperatures are expected to boost storms

(CNN) -- The coming summer and fall could be an "active to extremely active" hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean, U.S. forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted.

There is a 70 percent chance that three to seven major hurricanes will swirl in the Atlantic in the six months following the start of the hurricane season on June 1, according to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

"If this outlook holds true, this season could be one of the more active on record," said Jane Lubchenco, the under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, and NOAA's administrator.

The forecast predicts between 14 and 23 storms with top winds of 39 mph or higher, the threshold for tropical storm status.

It predicts eight to 14 of those will become named hurricanes, with winds topping 74 mph or higher, and three to seven of those will become major ones, meaning Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Category 3 storms have sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

Forecasters have said that El Nino conditions will dissipate by summer and that unusually warm tropical Atlantic surface temperatures will persist, leading to favorable conditions for hurricanes to develop and intensify.

A report released in April by Colorado State University's forecasters William Gray and Phil Klotzbach also said that this year's hurricane season could be difficult, but they predicted only 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.

Gray and Klotzbach will issue a revised forecast next Wednesday.

A typical season has 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes, according to NOAA. The hurricane season ends November 30, although later storms have been known to happen.

Last year's hurricane season was below average, with only nine named tropical storms, three of which were hurricanes. The National Hurricane Center said it was the lowest number of tropical storms for the Atlantic basin since 1997.