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(Reuters) - U.S. weather forecasters on Thursday predicted more tropical storms in 2017 than normal for the Atlantic hurricane season, which last year brought one of the deadliest recorded storm systems that killed several hundred people.
Meteorologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center said there was a 70 percent chance of seeing between 11 and 17 named tropical storms this season, which begins on June 1 and runs for six months.
"There is a potential for a lot of storm activity this year," Ben Friedman, acting NOAA administrator, said at a press conference in College Park, Maryland.
Five to nine of the storms could become hurricanes, with winds of 74 miles per hour or higher, including two to four major hurricanes, with winds of at least 111 miles per hour, Friedman said.
A normal season consists of an average of 12 tropical storms and six hurricanes, including three considered major.
U.S. residents along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast could be affected by the storms, as well as Mexico and the nations surrounding the Caribbean Sea.
The figures for 2017 are higher than last year's prediction of 10 to 16 storms, with four to eight likely to become hurricanes.
A weak or non-existent El Nino, which typically suppresses the development of Atlantic hurricanes, and warmer sea surface temperatures factor into the predictions, said Gerry Bell, a NOAA hurricane climate specialist.
Forecasters will deploy more sophisticated tools this season to accurately track, image and predict the intensity of storms. They also will revise their model for communicating with the public, in part by sending alerts about storm surge, which is often the most dangerous element of tropical storms.
Despite forecasting advancements, Friedman warned residents, especially in coastal areas, to get ready ahead of time with evacuation plans and emergency supplies.
"We cannot stop hurricanes, but we can prepare for them," Friedman said.
Last October, Hurricane Matthew killed hundreds of people when it hit Haiti and 34 more in the United States, and caused $10 billion in damage, making it one of the deadliest and most costly storms on record.
NOAA will update its outlook again in August, just before the peak storm season.
Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Diane Craft and Grant McCool