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US government forecasters have even higher expectations for below-average hurricane season

MIAMI - The Atlantic hurricane season will continue to be even quieter than predicted, thanks to atmospheric and oceanic conditions suppressing storm formation, federal forecasters said Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration still expects three to six hurricanes to form during the six-month season that peaks between mid-August and mid-October.

Officials dropped the number of named storms to between seven and 12 in an updated hurricane season forecast issued Thursday.

The forecast calls for zero to two of those hurricanes to be major storms with winds greater than 110 mph.

"We are more confident that a below-normal season will occur because atmospheric and oceanic conditions that suppress cyclone formation have developed and will persist through the season." said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Those conditions include the likely development of El Nino, which warms part of the Pacific every few years and changes rain and temperature patterns around the world and typically reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes.

Relatively cooler temperatures on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean also have lowered the probability of hurricane formation.

"Nonetheless, tropical storms and hurricanes can strike the U.S. during below-normal seasons, as we have already seen this year when Arthur made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane. We urge everyone to remain prepared and be on alert throughout the season," Bell said.

Forecasters said there remains a 70 per cent chance that the season will be less busy than normal. A normal year has 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major storms.

There have been two hurricanes so far this year: Arthur and Bertha, which did not threaten the U.S. coastline.

The Atlantic hurricane season begins in June and ends in November. Forecasters name tropical storms when top winds reach 39 mph; hurricanes have maximum winds of at least 74 mph.

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Follow Jennifer Kay on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jnkay.

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