hurricane_nasa_fc_web.jpgTAMPA (AP) – The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season could be slightly busier than average, with a good chance of six to nine hurricanes forming, federal forecasters said last week in a new way of making predictions.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials also said 12 to 16 named storms and two to five major hurricanes could form.

They said there is only a 60 to 70 percent chance for their predictions to come true, the first time officials gave a probability. They took that step following years of criticism of their long range forecasts, which have usually been fairly accurate but in some cases have been way off.

For example, government forecasters expected 12 to 15 named storms in 2005, but there turned out to be 28, the busiest season on record.

The Atlantic season begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

Forecasters stress that residents should always be prepared no matter what the seasonal forecasts say, because even a slow season can be disastrous. The government's seasonal forecasts don't predict whether, where or when any of these storms may hit land.

Gerry Bell, the agency's lead forecaster for Atlantic hurricanes, said probabilities were included because people had come to rely too much on the forecasts. “Basically it was interpreted as a 100 percent chance,” he said.

An average season has 11 named storms, including six hurricanes of which two reach major status with winds of more than 110 mph. This year should be about average or slightly more active, forecasters said.

Colorado State University weather researcher William Gray expects 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major this year.

Last year, there were 15 named storms and six hurricanes, two of which were major. The government predicted 13 to 17 named storms, seven to 10 hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes.

Gray was further off the mark. Before the start of the season, he forecast 17 named storms, including nine hurricanes, five of them major.