CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - NOAA released its initial outlook for the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season Thursday, predicting an above average season.
The outlook calls for a 70 percent likelihood of between 11 and 17 named storms. Of those, five to nine could become hurricanes and two to four are expected to become major hurricanes.
"The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Niño, near- or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region," Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said.
A storm is named when maximum sustained winds reach speeds of 39 mph or higher. A storm becomes a hurricane at wind speeds of 79 mph or greater, and a major hurricane is defined as a Category 3, 4 or 5, which have winds of 111 mph or higher.
These numbers include Tropical Storm Arlene, a rare pre-season storm that formed over the eastern Atlantic in April.
With Arlene already out of the way for 2017, the next named storm will be called Bret. That will be followed by Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma and Jose. The 11th named storm of the season would be Katia, followed by Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia and Philippe. If we do see 17 named storms, the 17th would be called Rina. The remaining names on the list for this year's hurricane season are Sean, Tammy, Vince and Whitney.
Hurricane season officially begins on June 1.
For 2016, NOAA's initial forecast called for a 45 percent chance of a near-normal season, a 30 percent chance of an above-normal season and a 25 percent chance of a below-normal season.
Last year's hurricane season was considered an above average season.
The 2016 outlook also called for between 10 and 16 named storms, including Alex, which formed in January.
There were 15 named storms last year.
The outlook called for between four and eight hurricanes, which also included Alex, and suggested between one and four would be "major" hurricanes, of Category 3 or higher strength.
The final numbers showed seven hurricanes, four of which were considered major hurricanes.
Those storms included Hurricane Matthew, which made landfall in McClellanville on Oct. 8 as a Category 1 storm.
It made its way toward the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coastlines after ravaging Haiti, Jamaica and parts of Cuba. It set a record by reaching Category 5 intensity at the lowest latitude ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin, according to a report from the National Hurricane Center.
The storm caused an estimated $10 billion in damage and was the deadliest hurricane since Hurricane Stan in 2005.
Matthew directly caused the deaths of 585 people, 500 of them in Haiti and four in South Carolina.
While Matthew's winds caused some structural damage to homes and businesses, most of the damage was minor compared to the damage associated with the storm surge and flooding caused by the excessive rainfall. The storm surge in South Carolina at the highest levels was three to five feet above ground level.
While the heaviest rains were seen in North Carolina, with close to 19 inches in Evergreen, North Carolina, Edisto Island, South Carolina recorded 16.9 inches.
Most of the damage in South Carolina happened in Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown and Horry Counties.
Experts say you should not wait to begin preparing for a hurricane, because by the time a storm's approach is imminent, supplies you may need may be difficult to find.
Experts recommend stocking a three-day food supply for each family member including pets and at least one gallon of water per day for each person or pet in your family for a total of between three and seven days.
Click here for a full list of supplies recommended for a hurricane disaster kit.
In addition to gathering supplies, it's wise to prepare a severe weather plan or review a plan from previous years to make sure everything is current.
Ideas for a severe weather plan include reviewing insurance coverage to make sure you know what your policy will and will not cover, clearing out loose or clogged rain gutters and downspouts and learning safe routes inland in case you are forced to evacuate.
Children should be taught how to use 911 and where to tune a radio for emergency information.
Click here for a full list of items that should be taken care of as part of your family's severe weather plan.