The 2007 Atlantic hurricane season should be "very active," with nine hurricanes and a good chance that at least one major hurricane will hit the U.S. coast, a top researcher said Tuesday.

Forecaster William Gray said he expects 17 named storms in all this year, five of them major hurricanes with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater.

The probability of a major hurricane making landfall on the U.S. coast this year: 74 percent, compared with the average of 52 percent over the past century, he said.

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Last year, Gray's forecast and government forecasts were higher than what the Atlantic hurricane season produced.

There were 10 named Atlantic storms in 2006 and five hurricanes, two of them major, in what was considered a "near normal" season. None of those hurricanes hit the U.S. Atlantic coast — only the 11th time that has occurred since 1945.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami originally reported nine storms, but upgraded one storm after a post-season review.

Gray's research team at Colorado State University said an unexpected late El Nino contributed to the calmer season last year.

El Nino — a warming in the Pacific Ocean — has far-reaching effects that include changing wind patterns in the eastern Atlantic, which can disrupt the formation of hurricanes there.

A weak-to-moderate El Nino occurred in December and January but dissipated rapidly, said Phil Klotzbach, a member of Gray's team.

"We do not think that's going to be an inhibiting factor this year," Klotzbach said.

The team's forecasts are based on global oceanic and atmospheric conditions.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, averages 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes per year.

The devastating 2005 season set a record with 28 named storms, 15 of them hurricanes. Four of those hurricanes hit the U.S. coast, the worst among them Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and leveled parts of the Gulf Coast region.

Gray has spent more than 40 years in tropical weather research. He heads the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State.