By David Adams
(Reuters) - The Atlantic hurricane season will be below-average this year due to cooler seas and a strong El Niño effect, the U.S. government weather forecaster said on Wednesday.
The forecast calls for six to 11 tropical storms this year, with three to six reaching hurricane status, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said at a press conference in New Orleans. There may be as many as two major hurricanes with winds reaching at least 111 miles (178 km) per hour.
Hurricane season officially runs June 1 through Nov. 30, although this season's first storm, Tropical Storm Ana, came ashore in South Carolina earlier this month.
"A below-normal season doesn’t mean we’re off the hook,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan.
"As we’ve seen before, below-normal seasons can still produce catastrophic impacts to communities,” Sullivan said, referring to the 1992 season, which had only seven named storms but included a major Category 5 hurricane - Andrew - that devastated South Florida.
NOAA's forecast does not say whether any of the storms are likely to make landfall in the United States.
In an average year, the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico have 12 named tropical storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, according to NOAA.
The El Niño phenomenon is the warming of tropical waters in the central and eastern Pacific. This affects global weather patterns, including winds, and makes the formation of hurricanes in the Atlantic-Caribbean basin less likely during the season.
El Niño has a 90 percent likelihood of continuing through the summer, the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center said earlier this month.
(Reporting by David Adams; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)