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NOAA predicts near or below-normal Atlantic hurricane season

The Atlantic hurricane season will see a 'near-normal or below-normal' number of storms in 2014, NOAA officials said on Thursday as they presented their prediction for the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.

Between eight and 13 named tropical storms were forecast, and of those three to six should become hurricanes. Of those, expect one or two to be major hurricanes.

That relatively upbeat outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration came with plenty of caution: "Any section of our coastline can be hit," NOAA chief Kathryn Sullivan said in announcing the outlook. "One storm can wreak tremendous havoc."

Jon Shireman | The Image Bank | Getty Images

The outlook was released at a news conference in New York City to highlight the fact that hurricanes are not just limited to Florida and the Gulf Coast. New York City officials also announced a new hurricane preparedness initiative.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs between June 1 and November 15, but tropical storms can form both before and after those dates.

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A key factor in this season's forecast is the increasing likelihood of a moderate El Nino, the periodic warming of Pacific Ocean waters that have impacts globally, including in the Atlantic where El Nino "generally favors softening" storm conditions, Sullivan earlier told The Weather Channel.

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El Nino causes stronger wind shear, which reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms. Last month, the other major U.S. hurricane forecasting group, which is based at Colorado State University, predicted nine named Atlantic storms. Of those, three are expected to become hurricanes and just one a major storm with winds over 110 mph.

An average season over the past 20 years has 15 named tropical storms, eight hurricanes and about four major storms. The last major hurricane to hit the U.S. was Wilma in 2005—and that eight-year gap is the longest on record.

NOAA last year forecast a busier than normal season, but got it wrong: Just two of 13 named storms became hurricanes and those were Category One, the lowest end of the hurricane scale. NOAA also rolled out high-resolution maps showing where communities can expect a storm surge if a big storm hits their area.

NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

Much of Hurricane Sandy's destruction in 2012—147 lives lost and $50 billion in damage—came from its storm surge.

For the Central and Eastern Pacific Ocean, NOAA on Thursday said it expects either a "near-normal or above-normal" season.

The Eastern Pacific can expect 14 to 20 named storms, which includes 7 to 11 hurricanes, of which 3 to 6 are expected to become major hurricanes. Mexico and Central America are hardest hit by these storms.

The Central Pacific can expect four to seven named storms. In the Pacific Ocean, an El Nino favors the formation and strengthening of storms.

—By Miguel Llanos of NBC News

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