Eight hurricanes, twice as many as last year, are likely to form during the coming Atlantic hurricane season, which starts in June and lasts through November, a U.S. storm researcher predicted today.

"A wide variety of global indicators obtained and analyzed through March continue to point to 2003 being an active Atlantic hurricane season," said hurricane expert William Gray, who issues tropical storm predictions with a team of researchers from Colorado State University.

"We expect Atlantic basin tropical cyclone activity to be about 140 percent of average this year," he said in a statement updating his December forecast for the 2003 season.

Gray said he expected 12 named tropical storms -- which have sustained winds of more than 39 mph -- to form in the Atlantic basin between June 1 and Nov. 30.

Of these, he predicted eight would become hurricanes, which have winds of more than 74 mph. Three of those could evolve into intense hurricanes, with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater.

There were 12 named storms in 2002; of those, only four were hurricanes and two were intense hurricanes.

Gray and his colleagues said they believed El Nino, which helped calm 2002 hurricane activity, was weakening and would be largely dissipated by summer. El Nino is a warming of Pacific waters that distorts global wind and rainfall patterns.

The Colorado State forecasters also said very warm sea surface temperatures and decreasing sea surface pressures in the north and tropical Atlantic would be other factors making 2003 an active hurricane season.