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Expect six Atlantic hurricanes this season, Weather Channel says

Folks living along the Gulf and East Coasts can expect a slightly below-average Atlantic hurricane season, the Weather Channel said Wednesday in a forecast that falls in line with an earlier one by university researchers. The federal government, for its part, comes out with its prediction next month.

"After very active tropical seasons in 2010 and 2011, we expect fewer storms to develop this hurricane season," meteorologist Todd Crawford said on

The big variable, he added, will be El Nino, the cyclical event that impacts Pacific Ocean temperatures and weather worldwide. An El Nino tends to increase vertical wind shear, the phenomenon of changing wind speed that can tear apart storms before they form.

"There is still uncertainty regarding the development of El Nino, which will impact future forecast updates," Crawford noted. "If the chances of El Nino development increase, our forecast numbers will likely go down even further in future updates."

Cooler North Atlantic sea temperatures are another factor behind the forecast, Crawford said.

The Weather Channel forecast calls for 11 named tropical storms, six of which become hurricanes. Two of those should be major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher, it added.

The 1950-2011 average is 12 named storms, of which seven become hurricanes and three growing to major storms.

Earlier this month, Colorado State University forecasters predicted 10 tropical storms, four of them becoming hurricanes and two "major" in size.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will issue the official U.S. forecast in late May.

NOAA this year retired Irene from its list of names for storms because of the 48 deaths and widespread damage Hurricane Irene caused in 2011.

It also slightly modified its hurricane wind rating system. As a result, Category 3 hurricanes are now 111-129 mph (from 111-130 mph), Category 4 hurricanes are 130-156 mph (from 131-155 mph), and Category 5 hurricanes are 157 mph or higher (up from 156 mph). 

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