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Season prediction: 4 to 7 full hurricanes

MIAMI — Top federal weather forecasters Thursday announced that the tropics are likely to experience an active storm season — one that could be almost as active as last year’s.

They predict the season will see nine to 14 named storms, with four to seven of them becoming full-fledged hurricanes. One to three of those will be major hurricanes, reaching Category 3, 4 and 5 designations.

Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others made their forecast public at a news conference held at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in northern Virginia.

“Our plan today is simple: We want the public to be ready for this year’s season,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told reporters. “We cannot prevent hurricanes, but we can prepare.”

Locke was accompanied by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and Bill Read, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center director, along with a host of other federal officials.

Government forecasters were right on the mark with their 2008 predictions — a very active hurricane season. The numbers: 16 named storms, eight hurricanes, five of them major.

Scientists had projected that the 2008 season would bring 12 to 16 named storms that would grow into six to nine hurricanes, two to five of which would be Category 3 or stronger.

Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead seasonal Atlantic hurricane forecaster, has said the gradual warming of the Atlantic Ocean, combined with an active tropical era of storms that began in 1995, will likely mean busy hurricane seasons in the future.

Florida was spared the worst of last year’s hurricane season. Only Tropical Storm Fay struck the region hard.

That was not the case for our Caribbean neighbors. Cuba and Haiti got pounded by a succession of major hurricanes and storms, resulting in heavy damage and many lost lives.

The six-month hurricane season begins June 1. The outlook is revised in early August, just before the height of the hurricane season.

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