msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/24/2012 11:15:11 AM ET 2012-05-24T15:15:11

Communities along the East and Gulf coasts can expect to see four to eight hurricanes form in the Atlantic this season, federal forecasters said Thursday.

Saying that a "near normal season is likely," the forecasters predicted 9 to 15 named tropical storms, of which 4 to 8 would become hurricanes.

Of those, 1-3 are likely to become major hurricanes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration added in its forecast.

If El Nino, the ocean pattern that impacts weather worldwide, "develops by late summer to early fall ... conditions could be less conducive for hurricane formation and intensification during the peak months (August-October) of the season," said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

The season typically runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, but this year it got off to an early start when Tropical Storm Alberto formed off the Carolinas on May 19.

Alberto was the third tropical storm to form before the official June 1 start of the hurricane season in the past 31 years.

Forecasters said there is no evidence that early-forming storms mean more tropical storms and hurricane for the rest of the season, especially with storms like Alberto that form from leftover weather fronts and low pressure systems moving off the mainland into the Atlantic.

"It's anomalous for sure, but there's really no indication this gives us any idea what the hurricane season is going to be like as a whole," said National Weather Service meteorologist Jonathan Lamb.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Storm Watch

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