Forecasters are predicting a "near-normal or below-normal" hurricane season for the Atlantic this year, with the potential for up to 13 tropical storms.
Hurricane season begins June 1 and lasts six months. The NOAA said in its outlook released at a news conference in New York Thursday that scientists are predicting three to six of those storms could become hurricanes -- storms with winds of 74 mph or higher -- with one or two at a Category 3 or higher, with winds of at least 111 mph.
The seasonal average for the Atlantic region, which includes the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, the NOAA said.
NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said a key contributor to this year's outlook is the likely development of El Nino, which brings a stronger wind shear that reduces the intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes.
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"Our scientists are seeing these climate features already starting to set up," Sullivan said.
NOAA's outlook says there is a 50 percent chance of a below-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season and a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season.
NOAA officials stressed that it only takes one storm to devastate a community. Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast in 2012, which was also predicted to be a near-normal season.
New York City Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Bruno said the city was still prepping for the season, despite the positive outlook.
"I'm encouraged by the forecast but I'm not satisfied that we can be sure that's what's going to happen," he said.
Also Thursday, NOAA unveiled new tools, including storm surge maps that will help coastal residents know how high floods could be, where they could go and when they will arrive. New Yorkers can learn more at NYC.gov/knowyourzone. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also has information on disaster readiness at Ready.gov.