The lack of hurricane activity prompted the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to alter its 2009 forecast on Thursday.

There hasn’t been a named storm yet; since 1993, there has been at least one named storm before Aug. 4.

But weather watchdogs are quick to point out that it takes only one powerful storm to make for a disastrous year. For example, the first named storm in 1992 didn’t occur until Aug. 16, when Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane, devastated South Florida.

NOAA is now predicting between seven and 11 named storms, with three to six becoming hurricanes and one or two of them reaching Category 3 or higher (winds above 110 mph).

This is down from two months ago, when NOAA forecasted nine to 14 tropical storms, with four to seven becoming hurricanes and one to three of them strengthening into Category 3 hurricanes.

The Colorado State University team, led by hurricane researcher William Gray, reduced its June forecast from 11 to 10 named storms and dropped its hurricane prediction from five to four, two of which are predicted to become major hurricanes.

The arrival of El Nino has prompted researchers to change their forecasts. El Nino, a periodic warming of Pacific Ocean waters, can suppress Atlantic hurricane activity by increasing wind shear across the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

Cooler-than-average sea temperatures in the Atlantic and northern Gulf of Mexico also have played a role, but it is less of a factor now that these waters have been warming and will continue to do so through early September.

The most active part of the Atlantic hurricane season is usually from late August through mid-October. The season runs from June through November.

"We are not out of the woods by any means," said Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead seasonal forecaster.

Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service, said, "History shows that hurricanes can strike during an El Nino."

He cited Betsy in 1965, Camille in 1969, Bob in 1991, Danny in 1997 and Lili in 2002.


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