Hurricane forecaster William Gray's team downgraded its expectations for the 2006 Atlantic storm season Friday, calling for a slightly below-average year, with only five hurricanes instead of the seven previously forecast.

Two of the hurricanes will be intense, according the team, based at Colorado State University.

It was the second time they had downgraded their forecast in a month.

Last spring, Gray's team called for 17 named storms to form in the Atlantic basin during the June through November hurricane season. As of Friday, five had formed, including Tropical Storm Ernesto, which briefly became the season's first hurricane last week and was moving through North Carolina on Friday.

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The average for the Atlantic basin is 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes per year.

The National Hurricane Center has also lowered its Atlantic storms forecast since the 2006 season began. In May, it predicted 13 to 16 named storms and eight to 10 hurricanes, with as many as six major ones. In early August, the hurricane center revised that to between 12 and 15 storms and seven to nine hurricanes.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season set a record with 28 named storms and 15 hurricanes, including Katrina, which hit one year ago this week and devastated the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.

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