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Hurricane forecasters are predicting above-normal storm activity this season and a new survey reveals hurricane hot spots where storms are likely to make landfall.

The upcoming hurricane season is poised to spin out 17 named storms this year, five of them major headaches, according to the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University.

The government's official forecast from the Climate Prediction Center isn't due until May, but National Hurricane Center director, Bill Proenza, said recently the hurricane season is likely to be above normal.

The timing gives residents in hurricane prone regions ample time to prepare for the worst and a survey reveals what areas are most at risk.

The six-month hurricane season begins June 1.

After 2005 hurricane's battered the Gulf Coast, forecasts of the 2006 season from both the university project and federal weather center over-estimated the ferocity and number of storms.

They both say that was because the now nearly dissipated El Nino system interrupted ocean currents that contribute to storms.

With El Nino out of the picture, the climate will return to an above-normal pattern of hurricanes. It's a trend the nation has experienced since 1995, weather watchers say.

Meteorologists and other scientists also say as the normal cycle of more frequent and more devastating hurricanes resumes, it may be exacerbated by global warming spawned climate change.

While no one can predict exactly where a storm makes landfall until perhaps just hours before, Bert Sperling's BestPlaces.com offers a list of "Hurricane Hotspots," locales most likely to be hit next by a major hurricane.

Sperling's researchers used 100 years worth of tropical storm tracks from the National Hurricane Center, consulted hurricane predictions jointly developed by scientists from the Climate Prediction Center, the Hurricane Research Center, and the National Hurricane Center and poured over information from Colorado State University's archives.

Sperling said despite a devastating hurricane season in 2004, it wasn't until 2005 before rough hurricane weather "caused some people to have second thoughts. If the hurricane activity continues at this pace, it will have a significant impact on where people choose to live or if they will rebuild in the same location."

Hurricanes can blow ashore virtually anywhere along the Gulf Coast and Atlantic seaboard, but here's where, not unexpectedly, they are most likely to visit, according to Sperling's research.

  • Southeast Florida. Forecasters estimate one Category 3 hurricane every 10 years will hit an area that includes Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. The area is overdue. Remember Category 5 Andrew? It's been 14 years.
  • The Florida Keys. Narrowly escaping Hurricane Rita in 2005, Key West and environs are also overdue for a big one.
  • Southwest Florida. Fort Myers and Naples got drenched in 2004 when Category 4 Hurricane Charley roared ashore.
  • West Florida. Hurricane Frances blew across the state through Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Clearwater in 2004.
  • Outer Banks islands, NC. This sparsely populated, but resort and recreation area juts out into the Gulf Stream making it an easy target for persistent hurricanes crawling up the coast.
  • Central Texas - Gulf Coast. Galveston Island has seen its share of hurricane catastrophe, but was last hit hard in 1989. Tropical storm Allison drenched the area, along with Houston, in 2001.
  • Central Florida - Atlantic Coast. Hurricane Frances made landfall here in 2004 as a Category 2 storm but hurricane threat wanes north of the Miami area, generally leaving the cities of Melbourne, Cocoa Beach, and Cape Canaveral much dryer.
  • Florida Panhandle. In 1995 Hurricane Opal came packing 125 mph winds. In 2004, it was Category 3 Hurricane Ivan. In 2005, the panhandle was hit hard by Category 4 Hurricane Katrina's storm surge.
  • Central Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina, the nation's greatest natural disaster, barreled ashore in 2005, destroying much of New Orleans, Gulfport, MS and surrounding communities. In 1969, Camille devastated the area as one of only three Category 5 hurricanes to strike the mainland. In 2004, Ivan gave Mobile, AL, a close shave as a Category 3 storm, and then made landfall at Gulf Shores, AL. Including Biloxi, MS, the area remains vulnerable to another major hurricane swollen by warm Gulf waters.
  • South Texas – Gulf Coast. This region was last hit in 1999 by Bret, a rare Category 4 storm that struck less populated areas. The region has avoided a catastrophic hurricane in recent years.
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