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A 50-foot wave crashes into a seawall by a man during Hurricane Noel.
A man watches a wave crash into a seawall in Nova Scotia, Canada, during Hurricane Noel in 2007.

Photograph by Mike Theiss, National Geographic

Willie Drye

for National Geographic News

Published May 19, 2011

As many as six major hurricanes could form in the Atlantic Basin during a busy 2011 summer storm season, forecasters announced today.

Twelve to 18 named tropical storms with winds of at least 39 miles (63 kilometers) an hour could form in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) head Jane Lubchenco.

Six to ten of those named storms could intensify into hurricanes—meaning they'd have winds of at least 74 miles (119 kilometers) an hour, Lubchenco said during a press briefing.

And three to six of the hurricanes could develop winds exceeding 110 miles (177 kilometers) an hour, which would make the storms major hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.

(Watch hurricane videos.)

Warm Waters, La Niña Foretell Busy Hurricane Season

The busy hurricane forecast is based on several factors, such as Atlantic water temperatures that are about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) above normal.

Hurricanes draw their strength from ocean waters that have been warmed to at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).

Another variable is a weather phenomenon known as La Niña, which exists when waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean are cooler than normal. This condition diminishes upper-level winds over the Atlantic, which often disrupt hurricane formation during the summer.

(Read about a possible link between La Niña and April's monster tornado in Alabama.)

U.S. Not So Lucky This Year?

Overall NOAA and emergency-management officials are concerned that U.S. East and Gulf Coast residents may have been lulled into a false sense of security during the 2010 hurricane season.

Although 2010 was the third most active hurricane season on record, with 19 named storms, no hurricanes made landfall in the U.S.

"The U.S. was lucky last year," Lubchenco said. "We cannot count on the same luck this year."

The NOAA forecast for an active hurricane season followed a similar prediction from Colorado State University meteorologists.

In April, CSU forecasters Phil Klotzbach and William Gray had predicted 16 named storms, 9 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes.

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