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.
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.
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)