The federal government predicts a near- or above-average 2018 hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin, where five to nine hurricanes are expected to form.
Overall, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts 10 to 16 named tropical storms will develop in the region, which includes the Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, the agency announced Thursday. The season officially begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
Of the hurricanes, one to four could be major, with wind speeds of 111 mph or higher and rated Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale of Hurricane Intensity. An average season typically spawns six hurricanes and peaks in August and September.
A tropical storm contains wind speeds of 39 mph or higher and becomes a hurricane when winds reach 74 mph.
Even before the official season kicks into gear, forecasters are watching a system predicted to spin up in the Gulf of Mexico over the Memorial Day weekend.
“There are no climate signals that suggest this season will be extremely active like last season or extremely weak,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
As it does each year, NOAA reminds that it takes only one hurricane to cause a catastrophic season: "Millions of people need to know that hurricane season is coming, and that you need to start preparing now," Bell said.
The possibility of a weak El Niño developing — along with near-average ocean temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea — are two of the factors driving this year's outlook. El Niño, a natural warming of the central Pacific Ocean, often acts to tamp down Atlantic hurricanes.
"If an El Niño develops, it could shut down the latter part of the season," Bell said.
According to NOAA, these factors are set against a backdrop of long-term climate conditions that have produced stronger Atlantic hurricane seasons since 1995.
This year, meteorologist Phil Klotzbach and other experts from Colorado State University — the nation's top seasonal hurricane forecasters — said 14 named tropical storms will form, of which seven will become hurricanes.
The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season will be Alberto, followed by Beryl, Chris, Debby and Ernesto, the National Hurricane Center said.
Last year, NOAA predicted 11 to 17 named tropical storms would spin up, of which five to nine would be hurricanes. In all, 17 named storms formed, of which 10 were hurricanes.