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The federal government predicts a slightly below-average hurricane season in the Atlantic this year. Three to six hurricanes are expected.

A typical season, based on the years 1981-2010, sees six hurricanes.

The Atlantic season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. This forecast, out Thursday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), covers storms that form in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

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The main reason for the below average season is the expected development of El Niño, which decreases the likelihood of strong Atlantic hurricanes, according to NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan.

"Even though we expect El Niño to suppress the number of storms this season, it's important to remember it takes only one landfalling storm to cause a disaster," she added.

Overall, NOAA predicts that eight to 13 named tropical storms are likely. Tropical storms have wind speeds of 39 mph or higher. A storm becomes a hurricane when its winds reach 74 mph.

Of the three to 6 forecast hurricanes, one or two should be "major" hurricanes. Major hurricanes have wind speeds of 111 mph or higher, and are rated as Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale of Hurricane Intensity.

Before hurricane season, weather reporter Doyle Rice answers host Carly Mallenbaum’s “stupid” questions about hurricanes. Such as how are the storms named? (USA TODAY, USA NOW)

AccuWeather and The Weather Channel, two of the biggest private weather forecasting companies, also predict a quiet hurricane season. AccuWeather said 10 named tropical storms will form, five of them hurricanes. The Weather Channel forecasts nine tropical storms — three of them hurricanes.

Last month, Colorado State University meteorologists predicted nine tropical storms, three of them hurricanes. Colorado State University meteorologist William Gray was the first scientist to make seasonal hurricane forecasts in the 1980s.

Since 2000, NOAA's tropical storm and hurricane forecasts have been hit or miss: NOAA's prediction has been accurate in seven of the past 14 years, according to a USA TODAY analysis.

NOAA's prediction was too low in five years and too high in two years: 2006 and 2013. Ten of the 14 years have seen above-average activity for tropical storms and hurricanes.

The first named storms of the Atlantic hurricane season will be Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly and Edouard.

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