Hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean will be at or below normal levels this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual forecast.

The six-month hurricane season begins June 1.

NOAA says there's a 70 percent likelihood that eight to 13 tropical storms will form, three to six of which will become hurricanes. One to two may grow in strength and become Category 3 hurricanes — meaning winds of 111 mph or higher — or above.

"These ranges are near or below their seasonal averages," NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said at a Thursday news conference in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The average season produces 12 tropical storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Forecasts about individual storms will be provided throughout the season by NOAA's National Hurricane Center.

The likelihood of hurricanes is expected to be reduced by lower than average Atlantic temperatures and the formation of an El Nino in the summer or early fall, which would inhibit cyclonic growth.

Sullivan emphasized that overall statistical predictions are less important than the need for coastal areas to prepare for the danger potentially posed by any one major storm.

No hurricane rated Category 3 or higher has made landfall in the U.S. mainland since 2005 — the longest gap since reliable records started being kept in the late 19th century. Hurricane Sandy had weakened before battering the Northeast in 2012.

"It only takes one destructive storm to make for a very bad season on the ground in our communities," Sullivan said.

NOAA officials said they have made "vital improvements" to their forecasting models, thanks in part to supplemental funds approved by Congress following Sandy in 2012. They also announced new storm surge maps and modeling that will be available to the public. The maps will show land areas where storm surges might occur, as well as predicting water levels.

On Wednesday, NOAA forecast a near-normal or above-normal season in the Central Pacific Basin this year. It expects four to seven tropical cyclones, which include tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes.

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