It’s been a busy year thus far for natural disasters: earthquakes, blizzards, droughts, floods and volcanic ash. The Atlantic hurricane season, which begins June 1, peaks in September and officially winds up Nov. 30, is not looking much better.

If the early forecasts prove accurate, this hurricane season will stand in sharp contrast to the relatively mild 2009 season, which produced nine storms, the fewest since 1997.

Bill and Ida were the only 2009 storms to become major hurricanes. Bill brushed Bermuda, and Ida whipped up winds over the Yucatan.

Blame this season’s forecasts in part on warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures off the west coast of Africa, the prime breeding ground of most Atlantic storms, according to the National Hurricane Center, the forecast arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA’s official forecast, not yet released, is expected to reflect a more active season than last, with higher-intensity storms and more of them making landfall.

Colorado State University’s weather gurus predict eight hurricanes, four of which will become Category 3 or higher weather systems with winds above 111 mph.

In all, the university predicted 15 named storms, and there’s a 58% chance of at least one major hurricane affecting the Caribbean region, according to Phil Klotzbach, the university’s lead forecaster.

While forecasters tweak their predictions as the season evolves, "we believe current conditions warrant concern for an above-average season," said William Gray, of Colorado State’s forecast team.

Since 2000, the team has under-forecast the number of named storms four times, overestimated the number three times and been almost right (within two storms) three times, according to the university’s data.

Private forecasting firm AccuWeather is also predicting a higher-than-average season, with 16 to 18 tropical storms and hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Basin, seven of which are expected to make landfall.

Five of these are forecast to be hurricanes, including two or three major hurricanes.

This report appeared in the May 24 issue of Travel Weekly.

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