(Reuters) - Most meteorologists forecast the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season will be less active than a year ago, with the number of named storms and hurricanes near average.
A few meteorologists, however, expect this season to be more active than normal with one, Global Weather Oscillations, saying it could be the most active since 2005 when five hurricanes hit the United States.
The 2017 predictions averaged 12 named storms, five hurricanes and three major hurricanes. A major hurricane is a Category 3 or higher with winds over 110 miles per hour (177 km per hour).
That compares with 15 named storms, seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes in 2016 and a 30-year (1981-2010) normal of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, according U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) data.
Most forecasters cited potential development of El Nino later this summer as part of the reason for a near-normal season.
"If El Niño fails to launch, we may be too low with our numbers," said Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist with the Weather Company, an IBM Corp business, which forecast 12 named storms, four hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
El Niño is a warming of the water in the central Pacific Ocean and has been linked to weak hurricane seasons.
David Dilley, chief meteorologist at Global Weather Oscillations, predicted 2017 will be the most dangerous and costly in 12 years for the United States due to a lack of El Nino conditions and warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures across most of the Atlantic Basin.
Dilley projected six named storms could hit the United States – the most since 2005 when five hurricanes and two tropical storms hit.
The 2005 Atlantic season was the most active in recorded history, with 28 named storms, 15 hurricanes and seven major hurricanes, causing an estimated 1,225 deaths and nearly $143 billion in damage in the United States, according to the NHC.
For the U.S. natural gas market, hurricanes do not pack the same punch as in 2005 because over 60 percent of production has moved from the hurricane-prone Gulf of Mexico to shale formations far from the coast.
U.S. gas futures hit record highs over $15 per million British thermal units in late 2005 after hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into the Gulf Coast. At that time, over 20 percent of the nation's gas came from the Gulf of Mexico, but that is down to 4 percent now.
Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Lisa Shumaker