By Kate Bilo

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Hurricane season is almost here as U.S. government forecasters made their predictions for this year’s storms on Thursday.

The 2017 season broke records and left behind billions of dollars in damage.

“This is time to start getting prepared for the hurricane season,” said Gerry Bell, a climate specialist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Officials from NOAA are expecting up to 16 named storms this year. Of those storms, up to nine are forecast to become hurricanes – one to four of which could reach Category 3 strength or higher as they form in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Those storms tend to track farther westward and that’s why the Caribbean and the continental United States are more at risk,” said Bell.

In 2017, 17 named storms developed in the Atlantic with 10 becoming hurricanes. Storms like Maria slammed Puerto Rico and other islands. Hurricane Harvey left behind billions of dollars in flood damage across parts of Texas.

“Our preparations are well underway to ensure we’re ready for the 2018 hurricane season,” said NOAA Director Rear Adm. Michael J. Silah.

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FEMA officials say people along coastal communities should put money aside in case of an emergency.

“Disasters are very expensive. You may have to cover out-of-pocket costs until FEMA assistance or other types of assistance is available,” said Dr. Daniel Kaniewski.

The six-month hurricane season begins June 1.

Government officials say they cannot predict which parts of the country will be hardest hit.

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