Forecasters are expecting a normal or below-normal Atlantic hurricane season this year -- but they emphasized that one storm is enough to cause a catastrophe.
There's a 70 percent likelihood that eight to 13 named storms will develop, with three to six becoming hurricanes, and one to two of them becoming major -- that's category 3 or above, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center, which does not forecast where storms might strike or if any will reach land.
That's compared to averages of 12 named storms, six of them hurricanes and three of them major, for the six-month season that starts June 1, NOAA said.
The main factor at play this year is the anticipated development in the summer or fall of El Niño, a climate pattern that makes it harder for tropical storms to form, forecasters said. In addition, the expectation for near-average ocean temperatures "also suggests fewer Atlantic hurricanes," said Gerry Bell, the prediction center's lead seasonal hurricane forecaster.
Though El Niño is expected to suppress the number of storms, "it's important to remember it takes only one land-falling storm to cause a disaster," said Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA administrator, speaking Thursday at the New York City Office of Emergency Management in Brooklyn.
Mirroring that sentiment was Joe Nimmich, FEMA associate administrator, who pointed to last month's 5 inches of rainfall in a 45-minute period in Pensacola, Florida, "without a tropical storm or hurricane."
The message is be prepared, with next week being National Hurricane Preparedness Week.
Also predicting a below-average season are researchers at Colorado State University, whose "best estimate" is for nine named tropical storms, three expected to become hurricanes, with one of those reaching category 3, 4 or 5.
"The tropical Atlantic has anomalously cooled over the past several months, and the chances of a moderate to strong El Niño event this summer and fall appear to be quite high," research scientist Phil Klotzbach said in April.