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The 2019 hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30. Here are the storm names for the upcoming season. Maureen Kenyon, maureen.kenyon@tcpalm.com

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After yet another catastrophic hurricane season in the United States in 2018, which featured such ferocious storms as Florence and Michael, top hurricane forecasters have taken their first prediction for the 2019 season, which begins June 1.

Thanks to a weak El Niño, experts are calling for a "slightly below-average Atlantic hurricane season." Meteorologist Phil Klotzbach and other experts from Colorado State University – regarded as the nation's top seasonal hurricane forecasters – predict 13 named tropical storms will form, of which five will become hurricanes.

An average season has 12 tropical storms, of which six are hurricanes.

A tropical storm becomes a hurricane when its wind speed reaches 74 mph. 

Of the five predicted hurricanes, two are expected to spin into major hurricanes – Category 3, 4 or 5 – with sustained wind speeds of 111 mph or greater. The group said there's a near-average chance for major hurricanes to make landfall along the U.S. coastline. Klotzbach put the chance of a major hurricane strike at 39%. 

Previous coverage: AccuWeather predicting 2-4 major storms in 2019 Atlantic hurricane season

Last year, Florence and Michael combined to kill over 100 Americans and cost nearly $50 billion in damage, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, though storms sometimes form outside those dates.

The team predicts that 2019 hurricane activity will be about 75% of the average season. By comparison, 2018’s hurricane activity was about 120% of the average season.

Colorado State's prediction in 2018 was quite good. Last year, the team predicted 14 tropical storms would form, of which seven would become hurricanes. In all, 15 tropical storms developed and eight strengthened into hurricanes.

One of the major determining factors in hurricane forecasting is whether the U.S. is in an El Niño or La Niña climate pattern, he said.

"The current weak El Niño event appears likely to maintain intensity or perhaps even strengthen during the summer/fall," according to the forecast.

El Niño is a natural warming of tropical Pacific Ocean water, which tends to suppress the development of Atlantic hurricanes. Its opposite, La Niña, marked by cooler ocean water, tends to increase hurricanes in the Atlantic.

Another limiting factor: Tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures are currently slightly cooler than average. Hurricanes are fueled in part by warm sea water. 

Insurance companies, emergency managers and the media use the forecasts to prepare Americans for the year's hurricane threat. The team's annual predictions provide a best estimate of activity during the upcoming season, not an exact measure, according to Colorado State.

"We issue these forecasts to satisfy the curiosity of the general public and to bring attention to the hurricane problem," the university said. "There is a general interest in knowing what the odds are for an active or inactive season."

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The university, under the direction of meteorologist William Gray, was the first group to predict seasonal hurricane activity in the mid-1980s. Gray died in 2016.

This is the team's 36th forecast. It covers the Atlantic basin, which includes the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

AccuWeather released its hurricane forecast for the upcoming season on Wednesday, predicting that 12-14 named storms would form, of which five to seven will be hurricanes. The firm said two to four are likely to hit the U.S.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will issue its forecast in late May.

The first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season will be Arlene, followed by Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand, and Gabrielle.

Colorado State forecasters will update their predictions 3 times over the next few months, on June 4, July 2 and August 6.

Videos:Satellite animations of Hurricane Irma 

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