(CNN)--The Atlantic Ocean may have a couple more named storms this year than the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration initially predicted, the group said Thursday.
NOAA now predicts 12 to 17 named storms, up from the nine to 15 it predicted shortly before the June 1 start of hurricane season. Six named storms, including the current Tropical Storm/Hurricane Ernesto, have been produced so far.
For the Atlantic Ocean, a normal season would produce 12 named storms (with top sustained winds of at least 39 mph), including six hurricanes and three major ones.
NOAA also adjusted its predicted hurricane range, to five to eight (up from four to eight). Two to three of those should be major hurricanes, meaning Category 3 (with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 mph) or higher, NOAA says.
“We are increasing the likelihood of an above-normal season because storm-conducive wind patterns and warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures are now in place in the Atlantic,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. “These conditions are linked to the ongoing high-activity era for Atlantic hurricanes that began in 1995. Also, strong early season activity is generally indicative of a more active season.”
NOAA scientists raised the ranges despite their belief that El Nino – unusually warm temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean – should develop in August or September. El Nino suppresses storm development, but Bell said that wasn't expected to have an influence until later in the hurricane season.
“We have a long way to go until the end of the season, and we shouldn’t let our guard down,” said Laura Furgione, acting director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “Hurricanes often bring dangerous inland flooding as we saw a year ago in the Northeast with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. Even people who live hundreds of miles from the coast need to remain vigilant through the remainder of the season.”