US government forecasters expect warm ocean waters will fuel an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast calls for 11 to 17 named storms, with five to nine hurricanes. Two to four hurricanes could be "major" with sustained winds of at least 111mph, reports the AP. Acting NOAA Administrator Ben Friedman says atmospheric conditions suppressing hurricane development could be weak or non-existent this year over the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The six-month Atlantic storm season officially starts June 1, but "this season has a running start," Friedman tells CNN. A rare April tropical storm formed this year over the open ocean.
"The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Niño, near- or above-average sea surface temperatures across the Atlantic, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear," said Dr. Gerry Bell, NOAA's lead seasonal hurricane forecaster, tells CNN. National Weather Service Deputy Director Mary Erickson says high-resolution hurricane model upgrades should provide "much improved" forecast guidance this year. Friedman says a new weather satellite will help forecasters see developing storms in greater detail. (Read more hurricane stories.)