Researchers at North Carolina State University are predicting an active 2007 hurricane season. Based on their forecast from last year, it could be a safe bet.

In 2006, the North Carolina State team predicted that one or two hurricanes would strike the East Coast, and it estimated that five or six hurricanes would form in the Atlantic Ocean east of the United States. Five hurricanes formed this past year and none made landfall, while a total of 10 named Atlantic storms formed in 2006.

But last year's relatively mild hurricane season probably won't be repeated in 2007, according to the researchers.

Lian Xie, professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences at North Carolina State, and graduate student Elinor Keith, say the outlook for 2007 is for an active season, with the possibility of 12 to 14 named storms forming in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the entire Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

Of those named storms, eight to nine may become hurricanes, four to five of which have the potential to become major (Category 3 or higher) storms.

The Gulf of Mexico is most likely to see storm activity this year, as Xie's research indicates a higher-than-average probability of two to three hurricanes forming in the Gulf Basin, with one to two likely to make landfall.

The Southeastern coast of the United States may see between one to three named storms, with one to two hurricanes making landfall.

Xie's methodology evaluates data from the last 100 years on Atlantic Ocean hurricane positions and intensity, as well as other variables including weather patterns and sea surface temperatures, in order to predict how many storms will form and where they will make landfall.

Last year, North Carolina State's was the only national model to accurately forecast Atlantic hurricane activity, predicting five to six hurricanes. Five hurricanes actually formed during the 2006 season. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

William Gray, who has become the nation's most reliable hurricane forecaster over the past 24 years, had estimated last season would produce 17 named storms and nine hurricanes, but he later revised his projections downward. The National Hurricane Center also predicted an active hurricane season, saying 13 to 16 named storms would form.

This year, Gray predicted at least nine hurricanes — five major — and predicted a total of 17 named storms. The National Hurricane Center will issue its forecast for the 2007 season in late May.