Hurricane season begins

NOAA: Expect 9 to 15 storms

HOUSTON - The 2012 hurricane season officially began on Friday, even though two named storms have already hit this season.

Hurricane Beryl was the second named tropical system of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season. Beryl came ashore near Jacksonville, Fla., just after midnight on Memorial Day as a tropical storm with 70 mph winds. It dumped 10 inches of rain in some areas of north Florida.

Tropical Storm Alberto was a short-lived storm that formed off the coast of South Carolina. It stayed in the Atlantic and did not affect land.

This is the first year since 1908 there have been two tropical storms develop prior to the official June 1 start of hurricane season.

"There is not any real correlation between the activity that occurs very early in the season or before the formal start of the season and what gets into August, September and October," said Bill Read, Director of the National Hurricane Center.

Federal and local officials use the start of hurricane season to remind coastal areas about the importance of emergency preparedness.

Harris County officials urge everyone to be prepared.

"We live in a hurricane-prone zone. Assume that a hurricane is going to hit us and make preparations accordingly. If at the end of the season, we haven't been hit, no harm, no foul," said Judge Ed Emmett. "And no matter what the predictions are, if one storm comes our way, that's a bad hurricane season."

Forecasters predict 9 to 15 storms

U.S. forecasters have predicted that this year's Atlantic hurricane season would produce a normal number of about nine to 15 tropical storms.

As many as four to eight of those storms could strengthen into hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's initial outlook for the six-month storm season. One to three of those could become major hurricanes with top winds of 111 mph or higher, or become a category 3 hurricane. Hurricane Ike in 2008 was a category 2 storm.

"People need to remember the threat is still there. Ike was not your worst case scenario. We can get much worse storms. The 1900 storm is still the benchmark of the kind of disaster that can occur," said Read.

The weather phenomenon known as El Nino, which warms Pacific waters near the equator and increases wind shear over the Atlantic, may develop by the late summer or early fall and help suppress storm development, forecasters said.

Forecasters name tropical storms when their top winds reach 39 mph; hurricanes have winds of at least 74 mph.

August will mark the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew's catastrophic landfall in South Florida as a Category 5 storm. The season that spawned Andrew started late and produced a total of just six named storms.

The seasonal average is 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

The 2011 hurricane season, one of the busiest on record with 19 named storms, produced Irene, one of the costliest storms in U.S. history when it hit the northeast coast.

Hurricane season ends on Nov. 30, and the peak period for hurricane activity runs from August through October.

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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.