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Atlantic May Produce as Many as 18 Named Storms, U.S. Says

May 19 (Bloomberg) -- The Atlantic hurricane season will be “above normal” this year with 12 to 18 named storms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

Six to 10 of those storms may become hurricanes and 3 to 6 are likely to become major systems with winds of at least 111 mph (178 kph), the agency said today in a statement. The Atlantic storm season begins June 1.

“The U.S. was lucky last year,” Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator, said today on a conference call with reporters. “The winds that steer where storms go kept them away from our coastline. We cannot count on having the same luck this year.”

Arlene, Bret, Cindy and Don are the first names that will be assigned to storms this year, according to NOAA.

Climate conditions that developed in 1995 remain in place in the Atlantic Ocean and will contribute to a higher-than-average storm total and more powerful hurricanes, Lubchenco said. Ocean temperatures are 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) above normal this year, compared with 4 degrees in 2010.

“We still expect it to support an above-normal hurricane season,” Lubchenco said.

The Atlantic storm season began last year as BP Plc sought to control its Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, which spewed millions of gallons of oil after a drilling rig exploded on April 20. The well off the Louisiana coast was plugged Aug. 6 and work wasn’t interrupted by tropical storms.

Hurricane Karl

In September, Hurricane Karl intensified in the southwestern Gulf, forcing closure of oil wells as it approached Mexico’s east coast. The Gulf accounts for about 31 percent of U.S. oil output and 10 percent of natural gas production.

“Far too many people will not be prepared and will try to get ready in the last minutes when the hurricane is threatening their community,” said Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Of all the hazards we deal with, hurricanes are the ones that should be the least surprising.”

The Atlantic season last year was the third-most active on record, with 19 named storms, including 12 hurricanes and 5 that were classified as major storms. None reached the U.S. coastline.

A year ago, NOAA forecast as many as 23 named storms, with 8 to 14 becoming hurricanes. The forecast was scaled back in August to as many as 20 named storms, with 8 to 12 hurricanes.

An average season has 11 named storms, according to NOAA.

A tropical storm gets a name when sustained winds reach 39 mph. It becomes a hurricane when winds reach 74 mph, and is a major storm, known as Category 3, at 111 mph.

The season runs through Nov. 30.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Efstathiou Jr. in New York at jefstathiou@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net

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