IMAGE: CAR BURIED IN SAND FROM 2004 HURRICANE
Eric Gay  /  AP
Images like this one last year, when Hurricane Ivan upended Fort Walton Beach and other parts of Florida, could be repeated this season.
msnbc.com
updated 5/16/2005 12:45:23 PM ET 2005-05-16T16:45:23

With tens of thousands of victims from last season's record hurricane damage still homeless, residents along the East and Gulf Coasts were warned Monday to expect another above-normal Atlantic hurricane season, with three to five major hurricanes predicted between June 1 and Nov. 30.

In its 2005 forecast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms between June 1 and Nov. 30, with seven to nine of those becoming hurricanes.

"Three to five could become major hurricanes," NOAA Director Conrad Lautenbacher said in a statement released with the forecast. Major storms are those packing winds in excess of 111 mph.

"Forecaster confidence that this will be an active hurricane season is very high," he added.

NOAA said the outlook reflects "an expected continuation of above-average activity that began in 1995." Since then, all but two Atlantic hurricane seasons were above-normal.

Inland warning
NOAA emphasized that it's not just coastal residents who should prepare, since last year's hurricanes showed that the devastation can reach dozens of miles inland.

"Impacts from hurricanes, tropical storms and their remnants do not stop at the coast," said National Weather Service Director David Johnson. "Preparation plans should consider that these storms carry severe weather, such as tornadoes and flooding, while moving inland."

NOAA said it would update its outlook in early August just ahead of the season's historical peak from late August through October.

In 2004, the initial forecast was also for 12-15 tropical storms, with six to eight predicted to become hurricanes and two to four major ones.

The final 2004 figures were 15 tropical storms, of which nine became hurricanes. And five of those were major hurricanes, four of which struck Florida within six weeks.

Overall, the hurricanes and tropical storms cost 117 lives in Florida and damaged or destroyed one in five Florida homes. Property losses were estimated at $42 billion.

An average season is 10 tropical storms and six hurricanes, two of which are major.

University forecast
The 2005 forecast is similar to one issued earlier this year by a team at Colorado State University. The team, which has had a good track record in the past, predicted 13 tropical storms, of which seven will become hurricanes and three of those intense ones.

Professor William Gray and researcher Philip Klotzbach told a hurricane preparedness conference in Florida last Friday that they might increase the number of storms in their forecast when it is updated May 31.

The reasons: the lack of a strong El Nino, the weather pattern characterized by a rise in the Pacific Ocean temperatures, and temperatures in the northern Atlantic Ocean that are about 3 degrees warmer than normal.

"The (Atlantic) sea surface temperatures are incredibly warmer than normal," Klotzbach told the conference.

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