The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, which has so far produced five named storms but little damage to the U.S. coastline or energy interests in the Gulf of Mexico, may be poised to ramp up tropical activity, according to forecasters at AccuWeather.com.

"It is possible that we will plow through at least three named systems by Aug. 25: Franklin, Gert and Harvey," AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said Wednesday.

Tropical systems that originate from the Cape Verde Islands near Africa often increase in August, Sosnowski said.

"Some of our forecast tools suggest at least two tropical waves (Cape Verde systems) will have moderate development. The first disturbance may affect the Leeward Islands this weekend with drenching downpours and squalls. The second system may visit the same area during the second half of next week with similar conditions. Both of these systems, if they do develop, could come close to Bermuda waters several days after affecting the Lesser Antilles," Sosnowski said.

And a disturbance associated with a cluster of thunderstorms crossing the Southeast Wednesday could help create a weak, short-lived tropical system off the Carolina coast late this week, according to AccuWeather.com.

On Thursday the National Hurricane Center (NHC) was tracking a broad area of low pressure centered about 650 miles west of the southern Cape Verde Islands. Conditions "appear favorable for some slow development over the next several days," according to NHC, which gave the system a 30% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone by Saturday.

An area of low pressure located about 300 miles south-southeast of the southern Cape Verde Islands was estimated to have a 20% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone, while disorganized showers and thunderstorms midway between Florida and Bermuda was estimated to have only a 10% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone, NHC said.

Disruptive areas of wind shear and pockets of dry air over the Atlantic have minimized the intensity of tropical systems so far this year "and may continue to govern the intensity of future storms over the next couple of weeks," Sosnowski said. "While an atmospheric roadblock will continue to protect the U.S. mainland coast for the next 10-14 days, there is some indication this protection will expire for the Southeast U.S. somewhere around Aug. 25," he said.

AccuWeather.com's extended forecast calls for a total of 15 named storms -- including eight hurricanes, three of them intense -- to form this year (see Daily GPI, April 1), and other forecasters have also predicted above-average tropical storm activity in the Atlantic basin. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association recently increased the number of named storms in its hurricane forecast, saying it expects 14-19 named storms, including seven to 10 hurricanes, three to five of them Category 3 or greater (see Daily GPI, Aug. 5). WSI Corp. has said it expects a total of 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes, four of them Category 3 or greater -- the same as the 1995-2010 average -- to form this year (see Daily GPI, July 27). Forecasters at Colorado State University have said they expect to see 16 named storms form in the Atlantic Basin, with nine turning into hurricanes, five of them intense (see Daily GPI, June 2) and MDA EarthSat has also forecast above-average numbers of named storms and hurricanes (see Daily GPI, May 18).

A total of 19 named storms formed in 2010, with 12 of them becoming hurricanes, including five intense hurricanes. The long-term (1950-2009) averages for the Atlantic hurricane season are 10 named storms, six hurricanes and two intense hurricanes; the 1995-2009 averages are 14, eight and four, respectively.

The hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30.

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