AccuWeather.com Chief Long-Range and Hurricane Forecaster Joe Bastardi has released a preliminary forecast that suggests fewer landfalls in the United States as well as fewer named storms in the 2009 hurricane season compared to that of last year. Bastardi cautions that storms may be more likely to form in the Atlantic Basin closer to the coast. Thus, he is not ruling out the possibility of a major hurricane making landfall in the United States .

“This year’s forecast shows only half as many impacts on the U.S. as there were last year,” Bastardi said. “But keep in mind, it only takes one major hurricane hitting a highly populated area to have devastating impact.”

Despite the early indications that point to a reduction in the overall number of named storms and of major hurricanes in the Atlantic basin compared to last year, the number of storms should still be “near or a little above normal.”

Bastardi points to several factors influencing the forecast, including a weak La Ni?a in the Pacific Ocean, which will dissipate. A reverse to a weak El Ni?o, which is associated with decreased hurricane activity in the Atlantic, is most likely in the middle to latter part of the hurricane season. In addition, the expected orientation of high pressure in the eastern Atlantic will produce stronger easterly trade winds across northern Africa than last year. This, Bastardi says, will result in increased dust and dry air being pushed westward into the Atlantic where many tropical storms originate.

Among the other factors influencing the report were cooler water temperatures in the deep tropical Atlantic, a typical breeding ground for hurricanes, which can reduce hurricane activity and intensity. This may create a season in which storms are reaching a greater intensity further north and east than last year, leading to less impact in the Caribbean areas hit hard last year. Bastardi also cited a continuing multi-decadal pattern of higher-than-average water temperatures in the Atlantic , raising the chance of major storms near the East Coast until about 2020.

Interested in more catastrophe news and in-depth articles? Head over to Claims’ catastrophe channel for more information.