(Reuters) - U.S. forecasters expect the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season beginning June 1 to be near average in the number and intensity of storms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center said on Thursday.
The forecasters estimate between two and four major hurricanes packing winds of at least 111 miles (179 km) per hour could develop during the 2019 season.
The NOAA forecast also said about half of the nine to 15 named storms will be hurricane strength, packing winds of at least 74 mph.
An average Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30, produces 12 named storms of which six become hurricanes, three of them major.
A weak El Niño weather pattern is likely to suppress hurricane activity, NOAA said. The condition is a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific and when strong is associated with warmer and wetter weather in the United States.
Still, warmer-than-average temperatures on the Atlantic ocean surface and a strengthened west African monsoon could increase hurricane activity, NOAA said.
NOAA believes there is a 40% chance of a near-average hurricane season, and a 30% chance of an above-average season.
In April, forecasters at Colorado State University predicted a slightly below-average Atlantic season with 13 named storms, five becoming hurricanes and two turning into major hurricanes.
Last year, the United States was hit by 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes, two of which were major storms.
In September, Hurricane Florence made landfall as a Category 1 storm and brought devastating flooding to North and South Carolina that led to 51 deaths. The following month Michael struck the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 storm with winds of 110 mph.
Reporting by Collin Eaton in Houston; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Tom Brown