After several busy years, hurricane experts are predicting a near-normal season.
Nine to 15 named storms are expected during the six-month hurricane season beginning June 1, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Of those storms, four to eight will likely be hurricanes and one to three will become major hurricanes with wind gusts of at least 111 mph, NOAA officials said.
The prediction is significantly scaled back from last year, which saw 17 named storms and six hurricanes, three of which were Category 3 or higher.
In the 2010 season, 19 named storms formed in the Atlantic, of which 12 were hurricanes.
This change, forecasters said, is largely due to cool sea surface temperatures in the eastern Atlantic, high wind shear and what experts believe will be a game-changing El Niño season, which could thwart hurricane development from August through October.
El Niño, or the development of warm surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, would hamper Atlantic storm development by creating harsh wind shear moving across Central America.
"If (El Niño) develops by late summer, it could shift the overall hurricane activity toward the lower end of our range," said Robert Detrick, director of NOAA's Oceanic and Atmospheric Research division. "But our message is not just about numbers and percents, it's about preparedness."
Experts encouraged the public to hope for the best but prepare for the worst, alluding to Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 hurricane that devastated South Florida in 1992 during a late-starting season that produced only six named storms.
"There's no such thing as just a tropical storm," NOAA hurricane forecaster Gerry Bell said. "There's no such thing as a weak hurricane."