Below-normal Atlantic hurricane season predicted

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The 2015 Atlantic hurricane season likely will be below normal, but that’s no reason to believe coastal areas will have it easy, government forecasters said Wednesday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a 70 percent likelihood of six to 11 named storms – those with winds 39 mph or higher.

Three to six of those storms could become hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or higher, including one or two Category 3, 4 or 5 storms with winds of 111 mph or higher, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center reported.

Hurricane season officially starts Monday and runs through Nov. 30.

“A below-normal season doesn’t mean we’re off the hook,” NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said in announcing NOAA’s hurricane predictions. “As we’ve seen before, below-normal seasons can still produce catastrophic impacts to communities.”

Only seven named storms formed in the 1992 season, for instance, yet the first was Andrew – a Category 5 Major Hurricane that devastated south Florida.

“The main factor expected to suppress the hurricane season this year is El Niño, which is already affecting wind and pressure patterns, and is forecast to last through the hurricane season,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with the Climate Prediction Center.

“We also expect sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic to be close to normal, whereas warmer waters would have supported storm development,” Bell said.

Tropical Storm Ana, which made landfall May 10 between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach with top sustained winds of 45 mph, does not signal that a stronger storm season is on the way, government officials said.

Ana’s development was typical of pre-season named storms, which often form along frontal boundaries associated with a trough in the jet stream. Named storms during peak season originate mainly from low-pressure systems moving westward from Africa, and are independent of frontal boundaries and the jet stream, officials said.

NOAA’s forecast came during National Hurricane Preparedness Week.

“It only takes one hurricane or tropical storm making landfall in your community to significantly disrupt your life,” warned Joseph Nimmich, deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Everyone should take action now to prepare themselves and their families for hurricanes and powerful storms.”

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