Federal meteorologists on Thursday called for an above-average hurricane season while warning that even a below-average season would be an active one.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called for 12 to 18 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes - those rated Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with top sustained winds of at least 111 mph.
In 2010, NOAA predicted 14 to 23 named storms, eight to 14 hurricanes and three to seven major hurricanes. The actual figures were 19, 12 and five.
"The United States was fortunate last year," NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said in a statement. "Winds steered most of the season's tropical storms and all hurricanes away from our coastlines. However, we can't count on luck to get us through this season."
The seasonal projections are mostly an academic exercise. No one can predict whether a storm will strike a particular area, so emergency managers urge people to prepare as if one will.
Last season was the third-busiest on record, but no storms struck the U.S. coast.
The NOAA prediction was announced as emergency managers, government officials, researchers and meteorologists gathered for the Florida Governor's Hurricane Conference in Fort Lauderdale.
NOAA cited three main factors for its forecast:
Since 1995, the region has been in a decades-long cycle of high hurricane activity.
The ocean's surface is about 2 degrees warmer than average.
La Niña, the cool-water event that tends to increase storm development, is expected to be gone in June but still will have some influence, such as reduced wind shear, which tends to curtail tropical cyclones.
Last month, the Colorado State University hurricane team predicted 16 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major hurricanes, down slightly from its December projections.