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Washington (AFP) June 1, 2012
The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season officially began Friday -- and although the forecast is for a "less active" season than in the past, US officials urged residents to prepare for the worst.
Officials raised the specter of Hurricane Andrew, the powerful storm that ripped up south Florida 20 years ago during a year of few hurricanes.
"A lots of preparation has been done by national, state and local agencies, but it is extremely important that individuals are well prepared for this season, as every year," said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate joined Napolitano at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center for a press conference to urge the public to shake off their complacency and prepare.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted a less active season of one to three major hurricanes for the period that runs to November 30.
Given the growing number of people who use mobile devices and no longer have a landline telephone at home, officials say that people should have extra batteries and a portable radio on hand.
"If we have a big storm, we'll lose the signal for sure, that could be inevitable," said Fugate.
"When your primary source of information is your iPhone, what happens when the power is out and there is no place to recharge it? We urge residents to make sure they have a battery-operated radio that can receive emergency bulletins.'
In case of a crisis, Fugate also urged people to send text messages instead of making phone calls to avoid congesting the lines.
"Use social media to update people and be prepared when power outages occur how you're going to keep your electronic devices charged," Fugate said.
NOAA predicted nine to 15 named storms, with winds of 39 miles (62 kilometers) per hour, saying four to eight would likely grow into hurricanes, with wind speeds of 74 miles (119 kilometers) or higher. The analysis includes the northern Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
The agency predicted one to three storms would develop into major hurricanes ranking category three to five on the five-point Saffir-Simpson wind scale.
Over the last 30 years, the average hurricane season has produced 12 named storms with six hurricanes, including three major ones.
"Regardless of the outlook, it's vital for anyone living or vacationing in hurricane-prone locations to be prepared," said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco.
"We have a stark reminder this year with the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew," Lubchenco said, referring to the powerful Category Five hurricane that ripped through south Florida on August 24, 1992.
Andrew "was the first storm in a late-starting season that produced only six named storms," Lubchenco said.
Up to now, Hurricane Katrina, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico and struck Louisiana and Mississippi in August 2005, is considered the most destructive and most expensive Atlantic season hurricane. The storm killed more than 1,500 people.
Tropical Storm Alberto became the first named storm of the season in the Atlantic in May as it churned toward the coast of South Carolina. Alberto lost strength once it made landfall.
In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Bud became a hurricane on May 24, but lost strength once it struck the coast of Mexico and caused little damage.
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