The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is calling for a "near normal" 2012 Atlantic hurricane season.
Robert Detrick, a marine geophysicist and the assistant administrator of NOAA's research office, said forecasters anticipate nine to 15 named storms this year.
Four to eight of those storms will likely become hurricanes with top winds of 74 mph. As many as three of those hurricanes could become major events with top winds of 111 mph.
These predictions are based on temperatures, wind shear and other factors, Detrick said.
The formation of El Niño in late summer or early fall could shift these predictions to the lower end of the range, he said.
Two storms have already been named before the official start on the Atlantic hurricane season — Tropical Storm Alberto and Hurricane Bud. Hurricane season officially starts Friday and lasts through Nov. 30. Peak months of storm activity are August, September and October.
The 2012 outlook calls for less severe weather than last year. 2011 closed out with 19 named storms, placing it among the most active hurricane seasons on record, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Detrick said NOAA will use new tools this year to measure, track and collect data from the storms, including small robotic boats that will gather information from inside the eye of each hurricane. In a partnership with NASA, scientists also will be able to analyze data collected from aircraft.
Predictions of fewer severe storms don't mean that anyone should shrug off hurricane season, scientists said in a conference call with reporters last week.
"The bottom line here is to prepare," Detrick said.
Tim Manning, the deputy administrator for protection and national preparedness at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said, "The most important time to prepare is now."
For more information about preparing for the hurricane season, visit FEMA's website.