As the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season officially kicked off Friday, a group of US forecasters raised their prediction for the number of named storms expected this year.
Researchers at Colorado State University predicted 13 tropical storms in the Atlantic over the next six months, up from their April prediction of 10 storms. They also forecast five of those storms would become hurricanes -- revised up from their original prediction of four.
Meanwhile, their outlook for major hurricanes -- or storms with winds of 111mph or higher, labeled Category 3, 4 or 5 -- remained at just two.
"We have increased our numbers slightly from our early April forecast, due largely to our uncertainty as to whether an El Nino will develop later this summer as well as somewhat marginal Atlantic basin conditions," Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the forecasts, said in a statement.
The outlook is within the range of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) prediction of nine to 15 named storms this year, with four to eight of those strengthening into hurricanes, and one to three likely to become major hurricanes.
Both groups have said they expect activity in the 2012 season to be slightly below average -- and possibly even more diminished if an El Nino develops later this summer.
El Nino, a weather pattern marked by unusually warm ocean surface temperatures, often blunts the force of tropical storms.
Based on data from the past 30 years, NOAA said an average season spawns 12 named storms with six hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.
Last year was especially active, with 19 named storms, seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes, including Irene, which killed nearly 50 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.
This year, there have already been two tropical storms -- Alberto and Beryl -- before the hurricane season's official start date of June 1. While such early activity is rare, Colorado forecaster William Gray said it-historically has had "very little bearing on the rest of the hurricane season."
"The only two seasons on record with two named storms prior to June 1 were 1887 and 1908," said Gray. "While 1887 was a very active season, 1908 had average levels of activity. The last season with a US landfall prior to June 1 was 1976, which was a relatively quiet season."
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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