The Atlantic hurricane season could be the busiest since 2005, when Katrina and Rita caused massive destruction along the same part of the Gulf Coast now struggling with the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, government scientists said Thursday.
The 2010 season may spawn as many as 23 named tropical storms, including up to seven major hurricanes, a number not likely to be affected by the spill, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted.
Eight to 14 storms would strengthen into hurricanes, with top winds of 74 mph or higher, the agency said. Three to seven of those could become major storms that reach Category 3 or higher - meaning they bring sustained winds of at least 111 mph.
"This season could be one of the more active on record," NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said in a news release. "The greater likelihood of storms brings an increased risk of a landfall. In short, we urge everyone to be prepared."
A hurricane might help break up the oil spill staining the Gulf of Mexico, but the oil won't affect significantly how tropical storms develop, forecasters said. They don't know what kind of environmental hazards to expect, though there are fears that winds and waves could push the oil deeper into estuaries and wetlands.