MIAMI (Reuters) - The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season should be relatively tame with a total of 12 named storms and seven hurricanes, a U.S. private weather forecaster said on Tuesday.
Three of next year's hurricanes are expected to be "major," with sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour, with Category 3 or greater status on the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, Weather Services International (WSI) said in its early pre-season forecast.
It said the forecast fell between the long-term average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two intense hurricanes and a more active recent average of 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four intense hurricanes.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts on June 1 and ends November 30 and 2011 saw a total of 19 named or tropical storms of which seven became hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.
Irene was the lone hurricane to hit the United States in 2011, but it was first one to do so since Hurricane Ike struck southeast Texas in 2008. Irene was also the most significant tropical cyclone to strike the Northeast since Hurricane Bob in 1991, according to U.S. government forecasters.
In its forecast on Tuesday, WSI chief meteorologist Todd Crawford said the North Atlantic Ocean had cooled to levels unobserved in a decade, fueling hopes for a relatively mild 2012 storm season.
Crawford was also quoted as saying most forecast models suggest an end to the cyclical La Nina weather phenomenon, which fosters hurricane formation.
Crawford stopped short of making any specific predictions about possible hurricane landfalls in 2012, saying there were no strong signals about any threats to the U.S. coastline so far. But he said the energy-rich U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Florida may see some increase in storms.
"For 2012, our landfall model depicts close-to-normal probabilities of landfall along the U.S. coastline, slightly elevated chances in the Gulf and Florida and slightly reduced chances along the East Coast," he said.
(Reporting by Tom Brown; editing by Todd Eastham)