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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday released its annual outlook for the quickly approaching hurricane season.

The agency’s Climate Prediction Center calls for 12-17 named storms, between five to nine of which could become hurricanes. Between one to four of those could be major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher. 

Officials said they have 70% confidence in the numbers.

At a news conference, NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad urged both coastal and inland areas to prepare for the season.

“Remember, it only takes one storm to devastate a community,” he said. “If one of those named storms is hitting your home, your community, it’s very serious.”

The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1 and lasts through November.

Though officials called 2023 a likely “near normal” hurricane season, they said it’s also a rare and uncertain one. 

That’s because of the presence of both warm surface waters that spur hurricane activity, and El Niño, which usually helps suppress it. El Niño is a climate pattern in which warm water is pushed east toward America’s West Coast.

Matthew Rosencrans, a NOAA hurricane forecaster, said that combination makes it a “rare set up.”  

“The stronger an El Niño event, usually the less amount of storms you have,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty this year.”

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NOAA graphic 

A graphic shows the key predictions from NOAA's 2023 hurricane outlook.

Last year’s outlook called for 14-21 named storms and between three to six major hurricanes.

The season ended with 14 named storms, three hurricanes and two major hurricanes – one of which was the extremely destructive Ian. 

Last year’s storms caused about $117 billion in total damages, U.S. Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves said Thursday. 

Fundamentally, climate change can impact hurricanes through a warmer atmosphere that makes the storms more intense or include more rainfall, Spinrad said. 

He cited 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which dropped almost 5 feet of rainfall on Houston, as an example.

Speaking at the news conference in Maryland, Spinrad noted the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Isabel as a reminder that the Mid-Atlantic is also vulnerable.

Isabel landed as a Category 2 on the Outer Banks in September 2003. It caused extensive damage in Hampton Roads and was Virginia’s costliest storm to date at over $3 billion.

The new outlook does not predict where or if the storms would make landfall.

NOAA also released the alphabetically-sequenced names it plans to use for this year’s cyclones, starting with Arlene.

The agency said it plans to upgrade and expand its prediction model this summer, using additional supercomputing power that will boost its capacity by 20%.

Officials said that’ll allow them to forecast flooding and storm surge scenarios for two storms simultaneously, for example.