Four to eight hurricanes in 2012 NOAA forecast

The US will see nine to 15 tropical storms and four to eight of those will become hurricanes, says NOAA in its 2012 Atlantic hurricane forecast. It's a 'near normal' year. Only one to three will likely become major, Category 3, hurricanes.

This NOAA satellite image taken Monday, May 21, 2012 shows Tropical Storm Alberto located about 85 miles northeast of St. Augustine Florida.

The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season will be "near normal" with nine to 15 tropical storms and four to eight of those will strengthen into hurricanes, the U.S. government weather agency predicted on Thursday.

One to three of those will grow into "major" hurricanes of Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in its seasonal forecast. Major hurricanes have sustained winds of 111 miles per hour (178 kph) or higher and can cause devastating damage.

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Hurricane season for Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, but got off to an early start this year when Tropical Storm Alberto formed off the South Carolina coast last weekend. It turned away and fizzled without threatening land.

Forecasters said pre-season storms are not uncommon and there is not necessarily a connection between an early start and a busy season.

It's been six years since a major hurricane has made landfall in the continental US. Hurricane Irene was a Category 1 hurricane when it made landfall in North Carolina last year.

Seasonal forecasts cannot predict chances that a storm will affect any one area, but are a useful risk management tool for insurers, commodities traders and energy interests.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

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