SILVER SPRING, Md., May 28 (UPI) -- The 2016 Atlantic hurricane season likely will be "near normal" with up to four major storms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Friday.
The season starts Wednesday and runs through Nov. 30.
The center predicts a 70 percent likelihood of 16 named storms of winds 39 mph or higher. Four to eight could become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher. That includes one to four major hurricanes of Category 3, 4 or 5 with winds of 111 mph or higher.
The center says a near-normal season is most likely, with a 45 percent chance. There is also a 30 percent chance of an above-normal season and a 25 percent chance of a below-normal season. The forcasts include a storm that already formed over the far eastern Atlantic in January: Alex. Bonnie, which was upgraded to a tropical storm Saturday from a tropical depression, is the season's second named storm.
It is forecast to make landfall in South Carolina on Saturday.
"This is a more challenging hurricane season outlook than most because it's difficult to determine whether there will be reinforcing or competing climate influences on tropical storm development," said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "However, a near-normal prediction for this season suggests we could see more hurricane activity than we've seen in the last three years, which were below normal."
Bell said uncertainty includes whether the high-activity era of Atlantic hurricanes, which began in 1995, is over. NOAA will issue an updated outlook in early August.
Also, El Nino is dissipating and NOAA's Climate Prediction Center forecasts a 70 percent chance that La Nina -- which favors more hurricane activity -- will be around during peak months of August through October.
The center is counting on improved forecasts because of better technology.
"This is a banner year for NOAA and the National Weather Service — as our Hurricane Forecast Improvement Programoffsite link turns five, we're on target with our five-year goal to improve track and intensity forecasts by 20 percent each," said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan. "Building on a successful supercomputer upgrade in January, we're adding unprecedented new capabilities to our hurricane forecast models — investing in science and technology infusion to bring more accuracy to hurricane forecasts in 2016."
NOAA will launch a new National Water Model that will provide hourly water forecasts for 700 times more locations in its current flood forecast system. In the fall, NOAA will launch GOES-R, a next generation weather satellite "that will scan the Earth five times faster, with a resolution four times greater than ever before, to produce much sharper images of hurricanes and other severe weather," the agency said in a release.