Philip Klotzbach and William Gray of the tropical meteorology project at Colorado State University predicted Thursday that only three of the storms will grow into hurricanes and only one of those will be category 3 or higher. On average, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there have been just over 12 tropical storms in the years between 1982 and 2010 and 6.4 hurricanes.
The hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, although tropical storms occasionally arrive earlier or later.
Of course, hurricane prediction is far from an exact science. Last year, forecasters predicted nine hurricanes, and only two developed, while a year earlier there were more than twice as many as predicted.
"The tropical Atlantic has ... cooled over the past several months, and the chances of a moderate to strong El Niño event this summer and fall appear to be quite high," Klotzbach said. "Historical data indicate fewer storms form in these conditions."
Klotzbach and Gray said people living in coastal areas should still be on the alert since all it takes is one hurricane to wreak havoc.
NOAA said that since 1982 the number of tropical storms in a season has ranged from four to 28 and the number of hurricanes from two to 15. Tropical storms have sustained winds of at least 39 mph and are considered hurricanes when sustained winds reach 74 mph.
Some Atlantic hurricanes head north, remaining hundreds of miles from land. Others head east into the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico or make landfall along the east coast of the United States, and a few have hit the British Isles and northern Europe as severe storms after losing their tropical characteristics.