It’s less than two weeks until the start of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season (June 1-Nov. 30), and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration expects an above-average season that will include 18 named storms.

Six of the storms will strengthen into Category 1 hurricanes (winds at least 74 mph), and three to six will become major hurricanes with winds of at least 111 mph (at least Category 3), NOAA forecasted.

Last year’s season was one of the busiest on record with 19 named storms, including 12 hurricanes. NOAA’s forecast in 2010 was 14 to 23 named storms, eight to 14 hurricanes and three to seven major storms.

Weather Services International, part of the Weather Channel group, calls for 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and at least four hurricanes of at least Category 3 strength.

Here’s a worry: WSI said that the waters in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean are warmer than normal this year, which could churn up a lot of storms.

Earth Networks' Weatherbug service predicts 13 to 14 named storms this season with seven to eight becoming hurricanes and four becoming major hurricanes.

In early April, the forecasting team at Colorado State University issued a preliminary forecast, calling for 16 named storms, nine of which will develop into hurricanes.

Don’t look for Igor or Tomas to ever pop up again in a list of hurricane names. They have joined the hurricane hall of infamy.

The storms brought damage and death in the 2010 season and have had their names retired by the World Meteorological Organization. They join such legendary storms as Katrina, Andrew, Marilyn, and Hugo.

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