MIAMI, June 1, 2012 (AFP) - The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins Friday, with US forecasters predicting a "less active" season of one to three major hurricanes but warning coastal communities to remain vigilant.
"NOAA's outlook predicts a less active season compared to recent years," said Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which tracks tropical storms and hurricanes. "But regardless of the outlook, it's vital for anyone living or vacationing in hurricane-prone locations to be prepared," she said. "We have a stark reminder this year with the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew," a Category 5 hurricane that devastated South Florida in August 1992, during a late-starting season that produced only six named storms. The NOAA predicted nine to 15 named storms, with winds of 39 miles (62 kilometers) per hour, saying four to eight would likely grow into hurricanes, with wind speeds of 74 miles (120 kilometers) or higher.
It predicted one to three storms would develop into major hurricanes ranking Category Three, Four or Five on the five-point Saffir-Simpson wind scale. Over the last 30 years, the average hurricane season has produced 12 named storms with six hurricanes, including three major ones, NOAA said. NOAA's chief hurricane forecaster Gerry Bell said the 2012 season could prove less active if the El Nino climate phenomenon develops by late summer or early fall.
US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was to speak to reporters on Friday to discuss efforts to prepare for the coming storm season, which officially runs until November 30.