* El Nino still expected but not until late in season
* Warm sea surface temperatures seen aiding storm formation
* Most active hurricane months are August through October
(Adds quotes, detail, byline)
By Jane Sutton
MIAMI, Aug 9 The U.S. weather agency NOAA
predicted a slightly more active 2012 Atlantic hurricane season
on Thursday, saying warming seas and the late arrival of El Nino
would bring near-normal to above-normal storm activity.
Forecasters expect the June-through-November season will
bring 12 to 17 tropical storms, with five to eight of those
becoming hurricanes and two to three strengthening into major
That was a slight increase from the May forecast, when the
agency predicted there would be nine to 15 tropical storms, with
four to eight becoming hurricanes and one to three strengthening
into major hurricanes. Major hurricanes have sustained winds of
111 miles per hour (178 km per hour) or higher and can cause
An average year brings about 12 tropical storms with six
hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
forecasters boosted their outlook in part because the season got
off to a strong and early start.
Two tropical storms, Alberto and Beryl, formed in May before
the season officially began on June 1. There have now been six
tropical storms, two of which strengthened into hurricanes, and
the season is just entering what is traditionally the most
Sea-surface temperatures are higher than usual in the
Atlantic region, which contributes to hurricane formation.
Although the hurricane-squelching El Nino pattern is still
expected, it has not appeared yet. El Nino is a periodic warming
of the tropical Pacific and brings shearing winds that hamper
storm formation in the Atlantic.
The forecasters said it would likely form in August or
September and that it would take a few weeks after that for its
impact to reach the Atlantic.
"We don't expect El Nino's influence until later in the
season," said Gerry Bell, NOAA's lead hurricane season
El Nino is less welcome in other parts of the globe because
it tends to bring heavy rain to Pacific Islands and the west
coast of Central America, and crop-killing drought to Australia,
Indonesia, the Philippines, Africa and India.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 37.3 million people
live along the Atlantic coast from Texas to North Carolina, the
area most at risk from hurricanes.
The forecasters warned residents outside the hurricane belt
to prepare as well. Inland flooding is the most dangerous aspect
of a hurricane, as Hurricane Irene showed last year, said Laura
Furgione, acting director of NOAA's National Weather Service.
Irene hit North Carolina and then chugged north along the
U.S. Atlantic coast through New Jersey, New York, Vermont and
New Hampshire, causing severe flooding in areas that rarely get
"In the last 30 years, inland flooding has caused more than
half the deaths associated with tropical cyclones in the United
States," Furgione said.
(Editing by Vicki Allen)