The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season officially started on Wednesday with forecasters at the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) predicting an above-average year for named storms in the Atlantic basin.

The official hurricane season runs until November 20, and the NOAA predicts there will be between 12 and 18 named storms.  Of those, forecasters predict 6 to 10 will reach hurricane status (winds exceeding 74 mph), and 3 to 6 will have winds exceeding 110 mph.

The seasonal average is 11 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes.

The United States was fortunate last year. Winds steered most of the season's tropical storms and all hurricanes away from our coastlines, said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. However, we can't count on luck to get us through this season. We need to be prepared, especially with this above-normal outlook.

So why are we looking at more dramatic storms this year?  The sea surface temperatures are up two degrees Fahrenheit warmer-than-average.  Also La Niña, which continues to weaken in the equatorial Pacific, is expected to reduce wind shears well into hurricane season.

The tornadoes that devastated the South and the large amount of flooding we've seen this spring should serve as a reminder that disasters can happen anytime and anywhere. As we move into this hurricane season it's important to remember that FEMA is just part of an emergency management team that includes the entire federal family, state, local and tribal governments, the private sector and most importantly the public, said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

So how will this above average season affect your summer travel plans?

There's no way of telling where and when exactly a hurricane will strike, but there are several ways to take precautions: 

-Visit ready.gov to learn more about hurricane preparedness.

-Keep in mind that hurricanes do not just affect the coastline, strong winds and flooding pose a threat inland as well.

-May 22-28 is national Hurricane Preparedness Week and NOAA will unveil a new set of video and audio public service announcements featuring NOAA hurricane experts and the FEMA administrators that can be viewed at www.hurricanes.gov/prepare in both English and Spanish.

-September is generally the month with the most potential for hurricanes (particularly in Florida), plan your vacation accordingly.

-Consider purchasing travel insurance if you are traveling during peak hurricane season.

-Know the refund policy of any hotels or activities before you book and make sure to ask about cancellations due to the weather.

No matter what, don't let these hurricane predictions deter you from booking an amazing summer adventure.  Often, you can find incredible summertime deals to the Caribbean that you could never dream of any other time of the year.  Learn the facts, be informed, but most importantly, enjoy your summer!