There have been 6 named storms to date, but none have reached North Carolina.

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. -- We've heard a few rumblings this 2017 hurricane season, but so far the seas have stayed calm in Southeastern North Carolina.

The season, which started June 1 and will end Nov. 30, is not yet halfway over. The closest a tropical system has come to the Cape Fear coast was Tropical Storm Emily, which formed in the Gulf on Mexico and made landfall near Tampa Bay early this month before crossing Florida and heading northeast. Emily caused minimal damage and flooding in parts of Florida, then dissipated in the Atlantic.

With forecasters calling for a slightly above-average hurricane season, here's what locals should know:

1. What are forecasters predicting?

In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its storm season forecast, calling for 11 to 17 named storms, with five to nine of those becoming hurricanes and two to four becoming major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger).

Steve Pfaff of the National Weather Service's Wilmington Office said NOAA will release an updated forecast later this month, but by and large the predictions should hold.

"When you break out the probabilities, the forecast is actually for an 80 percent chance of at- or above-normal activity," he said.

2. What have we seen so far?

This season has churned up six named systems -- Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily and Franklin -- and one tropical depression. Besides Emily, Cindy was the only storm to make landfall in the U.S., killing a 10-year-old boy on an Alabama beach in June. On Tuesday, Tropical Storm Franklin soaked Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and is expected to keep heading west.

While six may not sound like a lot, that's in line with NOAA's above-average prediction.

"I think we’re actually running above norm with the six storms by not even the middle of August," Pfaff said.

3. When could storms increase?

Historically, September spawns the strongest hurricanes.

"The ocean is at its warmest in September, which is why we have a lot of big storms," Pfaff said. "As we start getting cold fronts coming through in earnest in October or November, they cool off quite a bit."

Spencer Rogers, a coastal engineering expert with N.C. Sea Grant, said coastal residents should stay storm-ready in late summer and early fall.

"My philosophy is, it only takes one to ruin your day," he said. "It really doesn’t matter what the long-range forecasts are or what the basin forecasts are. All that matters is that if it hits you or not. And we’ve had cases of significant hurricanes a month apart, particularly in the '90s, so just because there haven’t been many so far doesn’t meant there won't be."

4. What should locals watch out for?

Pfaff said the major factor in cyclone formation to keep an eye on is El Niño, a cycle of warm temperatures in the Pacific that fuels storms.

"It's possible that only a weak El Niño could develop or, it's possible that it could remain neutral," he said. "And if it remains neutral, things could be on the higher end of the predictions."

Another factor will be the rise of sea temperatures in the Atlantic, which have so far stayed low thanks to winds coming off the Sahara Desert in Africa. But if and when a storm forms, Pfaff said residents should focus less on its strength and more on its forecast impacts. Even a Category 1 or 2 storm can wallop low-lying areas with stormsurge.

"Where we live, we just can't afford to be unprepared," Pfaff said.

Reporter Cammie Bellamy can be reached at 910-343-2339 or