US forecasters say 2018 hurricane season may be above normal

HOUSTON, May 24 (Reuters) - U.S. forecasters expect the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season will be near-normal to above-normal in number and intensity of storms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center said.

The forecasters estimate between one and four major hurricanes packing winds of 111 miles per hour (178.6 kph) could develop during the 2018 season, which begins June 1. The NOAA forecast also said about half of the 10 to 16 named storms will be hurricane strength with winds of at least 74 mph (119 kph).

An average Atlantic hurricane season produces 12 named storms of which six become hurricanes, three of them major. Private forecaster Weatherbell Analytics earlier this month revised downward its forecast for named storms in 2018 from between 11 and 15 to 9 to 13.

A system was brewing in the southern Gulf on Thursday that has a 70 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It is expected to bring heavy rain to the southeast United States early next week and could become the first named storm of the year as Alberto.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba Editing by James Dalgleish)