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Three 'major' hurricanes could form in the Atlantic, forecasters say

Three "major" hurricanes may form in the Atlantic this year, AccuWeather Inc. predicted.

The 2011 season is expected to follow 2010 as an above-average storm period, with 15 systems growing into named storms and eight of them reaching hurricane strength, according to the State College, Pennsylvania-based forecaster.

The Gulf Coast, New England and the Canadian Maritimes are areas of concern, AccuWeather said.

"This year, the early season threat area will be the western Gulf of Mexico and the southern portion of the Caribbean," AccuWeather said in a statement. "Within this zone, the higher concern for landfalls will be along the Texas and Louisiana coast."

The Atlantic season, which runs from June through November, is closely watched because the storms are a threat to oil and natural gas interests in the Gulf and to agriculture in the Southern states. Florida is the second-largest citrus producer behind Brazil, while the Gulf accounts for 31 percent of US oil production and 43 percent of refining capacity.

As the 2011 season progresses, the storm threat will shift to the north, according to Paul Pastelok, AccuWeather's lead hurricane forecaster.

Last year, 19 Atlantic storms formed, tying 1995 and 1887 for the third-most active season. The US received only one direct strike, when Tropical Storm Bonnie crossed southern Florida before dissipating in the Gulf.

An average season has 11 named storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. From 1995 to 2010, the average was 15, said Weather Services International, an Andover, Massachusetts-based maker of weather software.

As the 2011 season unfolds, forecasters will be watching the La Nina phenomenon, a cooling in the Pacific Ocean, along with the Azores and Bermuda high pressure systems.

The high pressure systems can determine the path of an oncoming storm, said Pastelok. La Nina can allow more storms to form by inhibiting Atlantic wind shear that tears at their structure.

The most active year on record was 2005 when 28 storms formed, including Hurricane Katrina.

---- In December, Colorado State University researchers predicted at least 17 named Atlantic storms, nine of which would become hurricanes. Colorado State will update its forecast on April 6.

Hurricane Igor, which hit Bermuda last year. The name has since been retired from use.

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Published March 30, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated March 30, 2011 at 5:14 pm)

Three 'major' hurricanes could form in the Atlantic, forecasters say

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