(USA TODAY) -- The federal government predicts a slightly below-average hurricane season in the Atlantic this year, with 3 to 6 hurricanes expected.
A typical season, based on the years 1981-2010, sees six hurricanes.
The Atlantic season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. This forecast, out Thursday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), covers any storms that form in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
The forecast was released during a news conference at the New York City Office of Emergency Management in Brooklyn.
The main reason for the below average season is the expected development of El Nino, which decreases the likelihood of strong Atlantic hurricanes, according to NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan.
"Even though we expect El Niño to suppress the number of storms this season, it's important to remember it takes only one land falling storm to cause a disaster," she added.
Overall, NOAA predicts that 8-13 named tropical storms are likely. Tropical storms have top wind speeds of 39 mph or higher. Once a storm's winds reach 74 mph, it becomes a hurricane.
Also, of those 3 to 6 hurricanes, one to two should be "major" hurricanes. Major hurricanes have wind speeds of 111 mph or higher, and are rated as Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale of Hurricane Intensity.
This spring, two of the biggest private weather forecasting companies, AccuWeather and The Weather Channel, also predicted a quiet hurricane season. AccuWeather said 10 named tropical storms will form, five of them hurricanes; The Weather Channel forecasts 9 tropical storms — of which three will be hurricanes.
Last month, Colorado State University meteorologists estimated 9 tropical storms, of which three would be hurricanes. Colorado State University meteorologist William Gray was the first scientist to make seasonal hurricane forecasts in the 1980s.
Since 2000, NOAA's tropical storm and hurricane forecasts have been hit or miss: NOAA's prediction has been accurate in seven of the past 14 years, according to a USA TODAY analysis.
NOAA's prediction was too low in five years and too high in two years: 2006 and 2013. Ten of the 14 years have seen above-average activity for tropical storms and hurricanes.
The first named storms of the Atlantic hurricane season will be Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly and Edouard.