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NOAA Lowers Hurricane Count Prediction

After a relatively quiet first two months of hurricane season, forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have slightly downgraded their predictions for this year's season. But officials say they are still predicting a more active year than normal.

At this time during last year's a record-breaking storm season, there had already been nine named storms in the Atlantic and Caribbean. This year, so far there have been only three. NOAA officials had originally predicted 13 to 16 named storms with eight to 10 becoming hurricanes and four to six of those becoming major hurricanes this year. They are now predicting seven to nine hurricanes, with three to four of those becoming major storms.

But NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher told reporters in Washington Tuesday the peak period for storms is from mid-August to mid-October and the worst is yet to come.

"The patterns that our scientists predicted during the initial outlook are continuing," he said. "We expect that the likelihood of storm development will be enhanced during this peak period. And so the bottom line is that NOAA still expects the 2006 season to be above normal."

Lautenbacher says warmer sea surface temperatures and favorable wind patterns are the main indicators of a more active than normal season.

The director of NOAA's Miami-based Hurricane center, Max Mayfield, told reporters that the results of a recent study have him concerned about the rest of the hurricane season. He says a survey of residents of U.S. coastal areas indicated 56 percent of them do not feel threatened by a hurricane or its effects such as flooding or tornados and more the 60 percent of those surveyed do not have a family disaster plan.

Mayfield says public preparedness helps save lives and property.

"I can assure you that a big part of the battle against a hurricane is won now by individuals taking the personal responsibility to develop their own hurricane plan to protect themselves and their families," he explained.

Likewise, government agencies are taking action based on the new forecast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency came under fire last year for its response to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi. FEMA director David Paulison says things are different at the agency now.

"FEMA is going to be ready to respond," he said. "We are literally light years ahead of where we were last year. We're not necessarily where we want to be. But I don't ever want to say that I am where I want to be, there is always room for improvement, so we are going to keep on moving down the road."

Paulison says FEMA views the hurricane season as a partnership between itself and the coastal areas most likely to be affected by storms. He says they are already with state and local governments to make sure they have emergency plans in place for providing orderly evacuations, shelter and supplies.