National Hurricane Center: Four to Six Major Hurricanes Expected This Season

The next Atlantic hurricane season could produce up to 16 named storms, six of them major hurricanes, suggesting another active year but not the record pounding of 2005, scientists said Monday.

Some parts of the Gulf Coast are only starting to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina, the worst of last year's record 28 named storms, 15 of which were hurricanes, seven of them Category 3 or higher.

While such a season is not predicted this year, National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield warned: "One hurricane hitting where you live is enough to make it a bad season."

Meteorologists said water in the Atlantic is not as warm as it was at this time in 2005, meaning potential storms would have less of the fuel needed to develop into hurricanes. Scientists said it was unclear whether atmospheric conditions that helped produce the 2005 storms will happen again this year, but the Pacific Ocean water conditions known as El Nino and La Nina will not affect the season.

The predictions came on the same day that an independent report showed the New Orleans levee system was routinely underfunded and therefore inadequate to protect against hurricanes. It also called for an overhaul of the agencies that oversee flood protection.

Last year, forecasters initially predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms, with seven to nine of them becoming hurricanes, and three to five of those hurricanes being major, with winds of at least 111 mph.

But the season turned out to be much busier, breaking records that had stood since 1851.

Last month, Colorado State University forecasters issued a similar forecast. William Gray and Phillip Klotzbach called for nine hurricanes, five of them intense, and 17 named storms. They also predicted a 47 percent chance that a major hurricane would hit the Gulf Coast between the Florida Panhandle and Brownsville, Texas.

Officials stressed Monday that predictions mean nothing if people do not act.

David Paulison, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's acting director, said more than 100,000 families still living in government trailers along the Gulf Coast will have to evacuate if a tropical storm threatens, even with winds of just 39 mph.

Paulison cautioned that those people who do not need to evacuate must still have an emergency plan.

"We have to be able to take care of ourselves for the first 72 hours," he said. "What it does when we don't take care of ourselves is stop our first responders in the street from helping those really in need."

Atlantic hurricane seasons were relatively mild from the 1970s through 1994. Since then, all but two years have been above normal. Experts say the ocean is in the midst of a 20-year-cycle that will continue to bring strong storms.

Between 1995 and 2005, the Atlantic season has averaged 15 named storms, just over eight named hurricanes and four major hurricanes, according to the hurricane center. From 1971 to 1994, there were an average of 8.5 named storms, five hurricanes and just over one major hurricane.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.