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Busy hurricane season predicted by NOAA

A surfer catches a waves between 12 and

A surfer catches a waves between 12 and 15 feet in Montauk after a hurricane far off the coast of Long Island created massive waves. (Aug. 23, 2009) Credit: Doug Kuntz

Federal scientists expect a busy Atlantic hurricane season this year, with up to 14 hurricanes projected between June and November.

Three to seven of those could be major hurricanes - Category 3, 4 or 5 storms with winds of at least 111 mph, according to the seasonal outlook released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"This season could be one of the more active on record," said NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco. "The greater likelihood of storms brings an increased risk of a landfall."

The outlook covers the six-month hurricane season in the northern Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, where efforts continue to contain a massive deep-sea oil spill. Officials said storm surge from hurricanes could carry oil from the spill up into coastal areas.

Officials with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center said there was a 70 percent probability the season would see between 14 and 23 named storms. That's up from the seasonal average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

Lubchenco said it was too soon to say where or how many could make landfall.

A hurricane is less likely to make landfall on Long Island, according to researchers at Colorado State University, which issues its own long-range hurricane forecasts. They said the probability Nassau and Suffolk would be hit by one or more hurricanes this year was 1.1 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively.

"They [hurricanes] tend to start weakening as they encounter cooler water," said Colorado State scientist Phil Klotzbach. Still, he said, some storms can gather strength off the mid-Atlantic and then shoot up north, like the 1938 hurricane that devastated Eastern Long Island.

Gerry Bell, NOAA's lead seasonal hurricane forecaster, said warm oceans and weak trade winds create a larger staging area in the tropical Atlantic where storms can form. The region has also experienced more active hurricane seasons since 1995 because of a set of wind, air pressure and ocean temperature patterns called the multidecadal signal. "All these things come together, and that's what we are expecting this season," Bell said.

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