POSTED: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 3:30pm
UPDATED: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 3:34pm
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — The start of the hurricane season is still a week away, yet we've already seen our first tropical storm and Hurricane Bud is stirring off the Pacific coast of Mexico.
Last year was one of the busiest hurricane seasons ever, with 19 named storms including Irene, which caused billions of dollars in damage in the Northeast.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tempered is predicting a "normal" hurricane season this year.
They expect nine to 15 named storms with four to eight of those strengthening into hurricanes.
"As we saw almost 20 years ago, it takes just one hurricane to make for a bad season," notes NOAA director Dr. Robert Detrick.
In 1992 Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm, blasted South Florida with catastrophic damage.
It came during a late starting hurricane season that produced only six storms. The wild card in this year's forecast is El Nino, a weather phenomenon that could form in late summer.
"El Nino tends to increase the wind shear. Wind shear then, tends to suppress or even kill off, hurricanes," explains the Climate Prediction Center's Gerry Bell.
Even though hurricane season activity has been above normal 12 of the past 17 years, no major hurricane above a Category 3 has made U.S. landfall in six years.
"Just because we're predicting a near normal season doesn't mean anybody's off the hook at all," Bell warns.