Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) agree with the consensus forecast for the upcoming hurricane season, saying Thursday that conditions in the atmosphere and the ocean favor a near-normal number of tropical storms this year.

NOAA said there is a 70% chance of nine-15 named storms in the Atlantic Basin, including four-eight hurricanes, with one-three major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher), compared with the 1981-2010 average of 12 named storms, six of them hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

The continuation of conditions associated with the Atlantic high-activity era that began in 1995, in addition to near-average sea surface temperatures across much of the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, favor storm development this year, but strong wind shear and cooler sea surface temperatures in the far eastern Atlantic are likely to limit storm development, NOAA said.

“Another potentially competing climate factor would be El Nino if it develops by late summer to early fall,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “In that case, conditions could be less conducive for hurricane formation and intensification during the peak months (August-October) of the season, possibly shifting the activity toward the lower end of the predicted range.”

NOAA joins a growing list of forecasters that expect the 2012 hurricane season to produce fewer tropical storms than the last few years. The WeatherBug meteorology team is forecasting 11-13 named storms in the Atlantic Basin, including six to seven hurricanes, with two to four major hurricanes and Telvent DTN this week said it is expecting 11 named storms this year, including six hurricanes, two of them major hurricanes (see Daily GPI, May 24).

Other forecasters expecting a relatively quiet hurricane season this year include Weather Services International (forecasting 11 named storms, including six hurricanes, two of them major hurricanes (see Daily GPI, May 23), [12/five/two (see Daily GPI, April 27)] and Colorado State University [10/four/two (see Daily GPI, April 16)]. The 1950-2011 average is 12/seven/three and the 1995-2011 average is 15/eight/four.

While last year’s Atlantic hurricane season didn’t bring many tropical storms to Gulf of Mexico energy interests or the North American mainland, it did produce the third-highest number of tropical storms since records began in 1851 and continued a trend of active hurricane seasons begun in 1995 (see Daily GPI, Nov. 29, 2011).

The Atlantic hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, got off to an early start this year with the formation of Tropical Storm Alberto off the coast of South Carolina last weekend. Alberto moved to within 130 miles of Charleston, SC, before being downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone and moving toward the central Atlantic Ocean Tuesday.

The National Weather Service (NWS) on Thursday was tracking an area of low pressure that was producing sustained winds of about 30 mph and wind gusts of tropical storm force over the Florida Keys and Florida Bay. The system was expected to move northeastward into the southwestern Atlantic ocean and had a 40% chance of becoming a tropical or subtropical cyclone by midday Saturday, NWS said.

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