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U.S. forecaster predicts near-normal hurricane season

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(Reuters) — U.S. meteorologists on Friday predicted the number of storms in the upcoming 2016 Atlantic hurricane season would be near normal, after fewer than normal storms last year.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a 70% likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms with winds of 39 mph or stronger, of which four to eight could become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or stronger, including one to four major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or more.

In 2015 there were 11 named storms, including four hurricanes, of which two were major, according to federal data.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

While a near-normal season is most likely with a 45% chance, there is also a 30% chance of an above-normal season and a 25% chance of a below-normal season, NOAA said.

“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, referring to changing water temperatures in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

“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,” he said.

NOAA included Hurricane Alex in its 2016 forecast. Alex was a pre-season storm that formed over the far eastern Atlantic in January.