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Fewer hurricanes forecast for 2018 Atlantic hurricane season

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Tampa (AFP)

After the most expensive hurricane season on record last year, US officials said Thursday to expect a more average Atlantic season with five to nine hurricanes in total.

Forecasters said there is a "75 percent chance that the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season will be near-or above-normal," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Last year was particularly devastating, with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria wreaking deadly havoc throughout the Caribbean and Atlantic basin. They were among 17 storms large enough to merit their own names which tore through the Atlantic basin, including 10 hurricanes.

The 2018 season, which begins June 1, could bring 10-16 named storms, including tropical storms and hurricanes, said NOAA.

Fewer storms are expected this year partly because of "the possibility of a weak El Nino developing," which could reduce the number of storms later in the season.

Also, "near-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea" have an effect on the number of hurricanes, NOAA said.

Just one to four of this season's most powerful storms are expected to become "major hurricanes," meaning Category Three or higher with wind speeds of at least 111 miles per hour (178 kilometers per hour).

Harvey, which drenched Texas, cost $125 billion and was the second-most expensive hurricane in US history, after 2005's Katrina which cost $161 billion.

Tallied together, 16 major weather disasters in the United States, including hurricanes, cost the US $306.2 billion in 2017, breaking the previous cost record of $214.8 billion in 2005, said NOAA.

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