FORT COLLINS, COLO. Next year's hurricane season is likely to be busier than average but not up to this year's ruinous, record-setting pace, one of the nation's top hurricane forecasters said Tuesday.
William Gray of Colorado State University predicted 17 named storms in 2006, almost double the long-term average, and said nine of them could become hurricanes - five of them major hurricanes, with winds of at least 111 mph.
Gray's research team estimated there was an 81 percent chance at least one major hurricane would strike the U.S. coast.
"Enhanced major hurricane activity is likely to continue in the Atlantic basin for the next 15 to 20 years," Gray said in his first extended forecast for 2006.
Gray has been forecasting hurricane activity for 22 years. One year ago, he predicted that 2005 would have 11 named storms, including six hurricanes, three of them major.
Instead, 2005 had a record 26 named storms, 14 of which were hurricanes and seven of which were intense hurricanes. Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma combined to make 2005 the costliest hurricane season on record.
The team's forecasts are based global oceanic and atmospheric conditions.