Hurricane Ernesto, just moments from landfall along the Yucatan Peninsula Monday night. (NOAA)

NOAA now calls for 12 to 17 named storms, 5-8 hurricanes, and 2-3 major hurricanes, up from its outlook in May which predicted 9-15 named storms, 4-8 hurricanes, and 1-3 major hurricanes.

“We are increasing the likelihood of an above-normal season because storm-conducive wind patterns and warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures are now in place in the Atlantic,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster. “These conditions are linked to the ongoing high activity era for Atlantic hurricanes that began in 1995. Also, strong early-season activity is generally indicative of a more active season.”

The upgraded forecast comes despite the expectation of a developing El Nino in August or September, which tends to decrease Atlantic hurricane activity.

“El Niño is a competing factor, because it strengthens the vertical wind shear over the Atlantic, which suppresses storm development. However, we don’t expect El Niño’s influence until later in the season,” Bell said.

If NOAA’s predicton holds true, this will be 15th time in the last 18 years with above average tropical storm activity in the Atlantic. Since 1995, just 1997, 2006 and 2009 have had near normal to below normal activity. The average number of named storms is around 12.

Satellite image of what may well become tropical depression number 7 (NASA)

The National Hurricane Center is monitoring a disturbance gradually developing 1005 miles west of the southern Cape Verde Islands. It has maximum sustained winds approaching 30 mph and conditions are favorable for additional development. It could be classified tropical depression 7 at any time. If it strengthens to tropical storm status - an expectation of most intensity models - it will be named Gordon.

Track models forecast this system to head towards the Windward islands and eastern Caribbean over the next three days.

And another system may follow it.

A strong weather disturbance in west Africa is emerging in the eastern Atlantic southeast of the Cape Verde islands that has potential to develop.

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