Amid the start of the peak period for the Atlantic hurricane season, meteorologists have revised their predictions upward and are urging awareness and stepped-up preparations.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is now predicting 10 to 17 named storms, up from the forecast of nine to 15 named storms released in May. The latest forecast projects five to nine of those storms will reach hurricane strength with winds of at least 64 mph, with as many as four reaching major hurricane strength with sustained winds in excess of 111 mph.

Forecasters at the Tropical Meteorological Project at Colorado State University also tweaked their forecasts this month, predicting 12 named storms for the balance of the season, which ends Nov. 30.

NOAA said atmospheric conditions over the subtropical Atlantic Ocean and the dissipation of the El Niño effect are contributing factors for its revised projections.

"El Niño typically suppresses Atlantic hurricane activity, but now that it's gone, we could see a busier season ahead," said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "This evolution, combined with the more conducive conditions associated with the ongoing high-activity era for Atlantic hurricanes that began in 1995, increases the likelihood of above-normal activity this year."

"We urge everyone to learn more about hurricane hazards and prepare now, ahead of time," said Pete Gaynor, acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, on Aug. 9.

Gaynor urged Americans living in low-lying, flood-prone areas or coastal communities to have a plan in place and keep essential supplies available. "If state and local authorities announce evacuations in advance of a storm, you and your family will have planned where to go and what to do to stay safe," he said.

Officials from electric cooperative statewide associations representing 20 states, including those prone to hurricanes, met earlier this month in Mississippi to review mutual aid agreements and discuss issues including transportation, lodging and logistics that become critical in the aftermath of major storms.

"Preparation for all types of natural disasters is a year-round activity for the dedicated men and women at the statewide organizations that coordinate resources and the crews who volunteer to help out neighboring cooperatives," said Martha Duggan, NRECA senior regulatory issues director. "During hurricane season, their eyes are never far from the weather map."