The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season could be slightly busier than average, with a good chance of six to nine hurricanes forming, federal forecasters said Thursday in a new way of making predictions.
The national Climate Prediction Center also said 12 to 16 named storms and two to five major hurricanes could form.
The center predicted a 65 percent probability of an above normal season and a 25 percent probability of a near normal season. "This means there is a 90 percent chance of a near or above normal season," the center stated.
It also said there is only a 60 to 70 percent chance for the predictions to come true, the first time officials gave a probability.
They took that step following years of criticism of their long range forecasts, which have usually been fairly accurate but in some cases have been way off.
For example, government forecasters expected 12 to 15 named storms in 2005, but there turned out to be 28, the busiest season on record.
Gerry Bell, the agency's lead forecaster for Atlantic hurricanes, said probabilities were included because people had come to rely too much on the forecasts. "Basically it was interpreted as a 100 percent chance," he said.
An average season has 11 named storms, including six hurricanes of which two reach major status with winds of more than 110 mph.
Are residents prepared?
The experts didn't predict whether, where or when any of these storms might hit land, and officials stressed that coastal residents should always be prepared.
“Americans in hurricane-prone states must get serious and be prepared," FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison said in a statement. "Government — even with the federal, tribal, state and local governments working perfectly in sync — is not the entire answer. Everyone is part of the emergency management process.
"We must continue to develop a culture of preparedness in America in which every American takes personal responsibility for his or her own emergency preparedness,” he added.
Forecasters and emergency responders fear that coastal residents will be apathetic this year after the United States escaped the past two storm seasons virtually unscathed.
A survey released Thursday reflected that sense. Thirty-nine percent of Houston-area residents surveyed for the Allstate Insurance Company said they would not evacuate and instead would stay home if a major hurricane was heading for the area.
Of those who vowed to stay, 52 percent cited massive traffic jams as a reason for riding out a big storm and 40 percent said they would want to protect their home from possible looting.
Seventy-nine percent cited a sense that they'd be safe at home as another reason for not evacuating.
University expert's forecast
Colorado State University weather researcher William Gray expects 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major this year.
Last year, there were 15 named storms and six hurricanes, two of which were major. The government predicted 13 to 17 named storms, seven to 10 hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes.
Gray was further off the mark. Before the start of the season, he forecast 17 named storms, including nine hurricanes, five of them major.
The Atlantic season begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.