One of the world's leading experts on hurricanes says the 2005 Atlantic and Caribbean hurricane season will be well above average.

William Gray heads a team of hurricane researchers at Colorado State University with a proven track record of predicting hurricane activity. He says the 2005 hurricane season will be extremely busy.

Mr. Gray says he is raising his forecast of hurricane activity from a preliminary report he issued several months ago. He says conditions in the Atlantic Ocean are ideal for hurricane activity.

"It looks like another very active hurricane season coming up," he said. "We have actually raised our forecast. We came out with one in early December that was a little above average. Then, in April we came out with that raised that more and now we are coming out with one that raises that more. We think that an el Nino weather pattern is less likely and the Atlantic is as warm as it has ever been except for one year in 1998 which was a very active year."

Mr. Gray says when the el Nino weather pattern is present in the Pacific Ocean it helps to push storms out into the middle Atlantic. His team calls for a total of 15 named storms to form in the Atlantic with eight forming into hurricanes. Out of those, four are expected to become major hurricanes, with winds higher than 175 kilometers an hour.

U.S. government forecasters issued a similar report several weeks ago, predicting 12 to 15 named storms and seven to nine hurricanes, with three to five becoming intense.

Scientists who study tropical weather patterns say air and water temperatures and circulation patterns in the Atlantic Ocean began to shift about 10 years ago, becoming more favorable to hurricane formation. William Gray says this phenomenon, known as a thermohaline circulation lasts for decades.

"This is just an Atlantic change and we think is due to the Atlantic Ocean circulation, the so-called thermohaline circulation," he said. "We know it goes fast and slow and lasts for periods of 40 to 60 years or so."

Last year four hurricanes struck the state of Florida in a period of six weeks causing over $42 billion in damages. There was also considerable damage in the Caribbean, where the island of Grenada was virtually destroyed by a hurricane. Experts like William Gray say with many more people living in coastal areas than there were during the last period of enhanced hurricane activity, the cost of hurricanes will inevitably rise.