MIAMI (CBSMiami) – After predicting above average activity for the last few Atlantic Hurricane Seasons, federal forecasters are singing a different tune for this year.

On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted a less active season than years past and forecast that we would see a near normal hurricane season.

NOAA forecasters said there was a good chance (70%) we’ll see nine to 15 named storms of which four to eight will strengthen into hurricanes. Up to three of those are expected to be major hurricanes with top winds of 111 mph or more. Based on the period 1981-2010, an average season produces 12 named storms with six hurricanes, including three major hurricanes. The seasonal outlook does not predict how many storms will hit land.

“Regardless of the outlook, it’s vital for anyone living or vacationing in hurricane-prone locations to be prepared. We have a stark reminder this year with the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew,” said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco.

On August 24th, 1992 Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane which devastated parts of South Florida, was the first storm in a late-starting season that produced only six named storms.

NOAA officials said factors favoring storm development include the overall conditions associated with the Atlantic high-activity era that began in 1995 and near-average sea surface temperatures across much of the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

However there are also two factors now in place which could limit storm development if they persist. One is a strong wind shear which can inhibit hurricane formation and the other is cooler sea surface temperatures in the far eastern Atlantic.

“Another potentially competing climate factor would be El Niño if it develops by late summer to early fall. In that case, conditions could be less conducive for hurricane formation and intensification during the peak months (August-October) of the season, possibly shifting the activity toward the lower end of the predicted range,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Lubchenco added that this year NOAA has enhanced two of its computer models which will give more accurate forecasts about a storm’s intensity at landfall and extend the forecast period beyond five days.

Click Here for the CBS Miami Tropics page, with an interactive hurricane tracker, maps, historic tracks, models, and tropical weather resources.


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