Government hurricane forecasters said there would likely be fewer storms this year than they had originally predicted in May. But they warned people living near coastlines not to be lulled.
"It only takes one hurricane to make for a very bad day," said David Paulison, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The National Hurricane Center now predicts that there will be 12 to 15 storms strong enough to get names; seven to nine of those storms will become hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or higher; and that three to four will become "major" hurricanes, with winds of at least. 111 mph.
In May they had forecast 13 to 16 named storms, eight to 10 hurricanes, and four to six major hurricanes.
Why the revision? The waters of the tropical Atlantic, where most of the storms take shape, have cooled slightly more than expected. Wind patterns have changed as well, with stronger prevailing high-altitude winds that tend to pull storms apart before they can gain much strength.
The result: So far this year, there have been only three named storms - Alberto, Beryl and Chris - and not one of them reached hurricane strength.
Still, Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, said we can expect an "active season." The new numbers are well above the average for the last half century.
Mayfield said a survey commissioned by the National Hurricane Survival Initiative, a coalition of government agencies and private companies that often have to deal with natural disasters, concerned him. The survey of 1,100 coastal residents found that 56 percent did not feel vulnerable to a hurricane; 68 percent did not have a hurricane survival kit; and 13 percent might not evacuate their homes, even if ordered to leave.
"This report was not encouraging," he said. In a separate statement he said, "Katrina was quite a national wake-up call, yet it seems too many residents are still asleep."
In the wake of Katrina, FEMA warns people to be ready to go for several days without any help from police or government disaster agencies. It urges people to keep 72 hours' worth of supplies of canned food, bottled water, flashlights with good batteries, and portable radios.
FEMA director Paulison also said his agency would try to move into disaster areas sooner than it did last year after Katrina. "The old model was we waited for the state to become overwhelmed before the federal government stepped in," he said. "That model simply doesn't work."