Forecasters Predict Active 2006 Atlantic Hurricane Season

The Atlantic hurricane season that starts Thursday will be active, but it shouldn't be as destructive as last year's record-setting season, one of the nation's top hurricane forecasters said Wednesday.

The latest forecast from William Gray's team at Colorado State University calls for 17 named storms for the 2006 season. Nine storms are expected to become hurricanes, and five of those are expected to have winds of 111 mph or greater, the forecasters said.

"If the atmosphere and the ocean behave as they have in the past, we should have a very active season, but that doesn't necessarily translate into storms that produce as much destruction as last year," said Gray, who has headed the hurricane forecast team for 22 years.

The forecast says there is an 82 percent chance that at least one major hurricane will make landfall in the United States this season; the long-term average probability is 52 percent. There is a 69 percent chance a major hurricane will strike the East Coast, including the Florida peninsula, and a 38 percent chance one will strike the Gulf Coast, according to the forecast.

The 2005 season was the most destructive in recorded history, with 28 named storms, 15 hurricanes and seven intense hurricanes, including Katrina, which devastated Louisiana and Mississippi and killed more than 1,300 people.

Earlier this month, forecasters with the National Hurricane Center and two other National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agencies issued a similar prediction, calling for 16 named storms, six of them major hurricanes.

Gray said the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November, is likely to be active for 15 to 20 more years but another season as busy as 2004 and 2005 is statistically unlikely.

From 1971 to 1994, there were an average of 8.5 named storms, five hurricanes and just over one major hurricane, according to government statistics.