Government meteorologists are forecasting nine to 15 named storms during the Atlantic Basin hurricane season, with two to four reaching major hurricane strength with sustained winds in excess of 111 mph.

“We’re predicting a 40 percent chance that the 2019 hurricane season will be near normal,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. In addition to hurricanes, four to eight tropical weather systems are expected to reach hurricane strength, with sustained winds topping 74 mph.

El Niño activity, producing warmer equatorial oceanic and atmospheric conditions, is one factor some forecasters think could suppress storm development. But Bell said that warmer subsurface water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and an active West African monsoon season could actually lead to increased activity.

NOAA has made several upgrades to its hurricane-related forecasting capabilities, and NOAA officials have said they expect to provide more seasonal information to the public.

The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1 and continues through Nov. 30. Federal officials cautioned that any major storm has the potential to cause significant damage and loss of life. Bell cited hurricanes Florence and Michael as recent examples.

“Florence in September 2018 brought record rainfall, which produced significant inland flooding in the Carolinas,” said Bell. “Michael made landfall in the Florida Panhandle as a quick-developing Category 5 storm and left a wake of destruction in its path.”

Both storms caused major power outages in areas served by electric cooperatives and required weeks of mutual aid restoration work involving co-ops from several states and contractors.

“These two storms alone resulted in more than $50 billion in damage, and more than 100 lives were lost,” Bell said.

“It only takes one event to devastate a community, so now is the time to prepare,” said Daniel Kaniewski, FEMA’s deputy administrator for resilience.

Kaniewski urged people living in potentially threatened areas to review their insurance policies, consider adding federal flood coverage, and share their evacuation plans with family members.

“Preparing ahead of a disaster is the responsibility of all levels of government, the private sector, and the public,” Kaniewski said.

The NOAA forecast is the second of several major hurricane forecasts released this year. Researchers at Colorado State University predicted last month that five storms will reach hurricane strength in 2019 and two will intensify to major hurricane strength. The university is expected to issue monthly updates beginning in June.