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Officials see above-average hurricane season looming

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The average number of named storms is 11
  • Officials predict between 12 and 18 named storms this year
  • Warm water temps, weather conditions are a factor

(CNN) -- Three to six major hurricanes could form over the Atlantic Ocean this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday in its annual hurricane season forecast.

It will be an above-average season this year, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said.

The agency expects 12 to 18 named storms this year, including six to 10 that will become hurricanes. Of those, between three and six could be major hurricanes -- storms that reach Category 3, 4 or 5 -- with winds of 111 miles per hour or higher.

The predictions exceed the historical seasonal average of 11 named storms.

"The United States was fortunate last year. Winds steered most of the season's tropical storms and all hurricanes away from our coastlines," Lubchenco said. "However, we can't count on luck to get us through this season. We need to be prepared, especially with this above-normal outlook."

The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and ends November 30.

One of the factors affecting the hurricane season is the weather phenomena known as La Nina, which is weakening in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, but its effects impact atmospheric conditions that, in turn, affect conditions in the Atlantic region.

Another factor is warm water in the Atlantic Ocean, the agency said. Sea surface temperatures where storms can develop are two degrees Fahrenheit higher than average, the agency reported.

Lubchenco cautioned that the agency cannot predict how many of the expected storms will make landfall or where.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate appeared with Lubchenco to announce the hurricane outlook.

"Now is the time, if you haven't already, to get your plan together for what you and your family would do if disaster strikes," he said.