The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today forecast a  hurricane season (June to November) in the Atlantic tamer than the one in 2008, which featured 16 storms severe enough to be named. But NOAA's hedging its bets, noting in a statement that "global weather patterns are imposing a greater uncertainty in the 2009 hurricane season outlook than in recent years."

According to the agency, there's a 70 percent chance of nine to 14 named Atlantic storms this year, as many as seven of those with the potential to become hurricanes, which feature winds in excess of 74 miles (121 kilometers) per hour. As many as three could reach "major hurricane" status, meaning their winds blow at more than 111 miles (179 kilometers) per hour. (An average Atlantic season has 11 named storms, including six hurricanes with two becoming major hurricanes.) Hurricanes originate as "tropical systems" once they reach sustained winds of at least 39 miles (63 kilometers) per hour. At the time a weather pattern is dubbed a "tropical system," it's also given a name. The name of this year's first storm will be Ana., a private weather forecasting organization, in March predicted 13 named storms in the Atlantic this year.

On the Pacific coast, there's an 80 percent chance of a near- to below-normal season, according to NOAA's Central Pacific Hurricane Center and the agency's Climate Prediction Center. There's a 70 percent chance of 13 to 18 named storms, which includes up to 10 hurricanes, of which no more than five will become major hurricanes. Last year, the Pacific saw 16 named storms, 7 of which reached hurricane status. An average eastern Pacific hurricane season –May 15 through Nov. 30–produces up to 16 named storms, with nine becoming hurricanes and as man as five turning into major hurricanes.

For more on hurricanes, see our in-depth report.

Image of 2008's Fay, Gustav, and Hannah hurricanes © National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)