NOAA Predicts Eight To Ten Hurricanes This Year

The North Atlantic Ocean could see 10 hurricanes form this year and four to six of them become major storms, the National Hurricane Center announced Monday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration advised coastal residents to "prepare, prepare, prepare" for a very active storm season.

NOAA predicts 13 to 16 named storms, with eight to 10 becoming hurricanes. Four to six could reach Category 3 strength or higher.

When a storm's winds reach 39 mph, it is assigned a name and is designated a tropical storm. It becomes a hurricane when its sustained winds reach 74 mph or higher.

A Category 3 hurricane has winds between 111-130 mph and can cause extensive damage.

The worst storm, a Category 5, has winds greater than 155 mph and can cause catastrophic damage.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.

The Atlantic Basin has been in an active hurricane cycle that began in 1995.

"Warmer ocean water combined with lower wind shear, weaker easterly trade winds, and a more favorable wind pattern in the mid-levels of the atmosphere are the factors that collectively will favor the development of storms in greater numbers and to greater intensity," according to NOAA.

A record 28 named storms, including 15 hurricanes, made 2005 season the busiest and one of the deadliest in the North Atlantic's modern history.

So many storms formed that the National Weather Service had to use the Greek alphabet to name the later ones when its standard list of 21 names ran out and more kept coming.

The NOAA is not forecasting a repeat of 2005, but the "potential for hurricanes striking the U.S. is high," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

Four Category 3 storms -- Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma -- hit the U.S. in 2005.

Hurricane Katrina's strong winds and heavy waves devastated the Gulf Coast in late August.

The storm and resulting flooding caused more than 1,300 deaths and an estimated $100 billion in damage, making it the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history, according to the National Climatic Center.

The World Meteorological Organization retired five storm names from the 2005 season: Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma.

Stan dumped torrential rains on Central America and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, killing as many as 2,000 people.

Names are retired out of sensitivity to the victims, and for historical, scientific and legal purposes.

One government storm researcher attributed the record storm season to global warming.

"The hurricanes we are seeing are indeed a direct result of climate change and it's no longer something we'll see in the future, it's happening now," Greg Holland, a division director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Speaking to the American Meteorological Society's 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology, Holland said wind and warmer water conditions that fuel storms that form in the Caribbean are "increasingly due to greenhouse gases. There seems to be no other conclusion you can logically draw."

Some like Colorado State University hurricane researcher William Gray disagree.

Gray attributes the warming to natural cycles -- predicting another five to 10 years of warming, followed by cooling.

Gray predicted an active 2006 Atlantic hurricane season with nine hurricanes, 17 named storms, and five Category 3-4-5 hurricanes.