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U.S. Predicts Up to 7 Major Atlantic Hurricanes

The upcoming Atlantic hurricane season will have between 14 to 23 tropical storms, including up to seven major hurricanes, the U.S. government predicted Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that eight to 14 hurricanes would form. Scientists forecast that three to seven of those hurricanes would be major storms that reach Category 3 or higher - meaning they bring sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

"If this outlook holds true, this season could be one of the more active on record," NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco said in a statement. "The greater likelihood of storms brings an increased risk of a landfall. In short, we urge everyone to be prepared."

The forecast is based on the weakening of El Nino. The Pacific Ocean phenomenon creates strong wind shear that weakens Atlantic storms.

No hurricanes hit the United States last year. Hurricane Ida hit Nicaragua as a Category 1 storm last November.

The Atlantic hurricane season begins Tuesday and runs through Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, the five-category system that describes a hurricane's strength and the havoc its winds could bring to the U.S. has been updated for the 2010 storm season.

Gone from the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale are estimates for storm surge and inland flooding from rainfall.

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

The scale was changed to alleviate confusion over storm surge and flooding predictions that didn't match what actually happened as a hurricane made landfall, said Chris Landsea, science operations officer at the National Hurricane Center and leader of the team that made the changes.

The new scale still classifies hurricanes by maximum sustained wind speeds, starting at 74 mph with Category 1. Category 3 and above is considered a "major hurricane," and the strongest - with winds greater than 155 mph - is Category 5.

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