NEW YORK - Three major hurricanes will strike the United States this year, with the storm-battered Gulf Coast most at risk in June and July, forecaster AccuWeather predicted Monday.

The outlook comes after a record-setting hurricane season in 2005 that devastated New Orleans and other coastal cities along the Gulf, and dealt a heavy blow to the U.S. oil industry that sent energy prices to record highs.

"The 2006 storm season will be a creeping threat," said AccuWeather Chief Forecaster Joe Bastardi. He projected that five hurricanes, three of them with winds over 110 miles per hour, would hit the U.S. coastline.

"Early in the season the Texas Gulf Coast faces the highest likelihood of a hurricane strike, possibly putting Gulf energy production in the line of fire," he said. "As early as July, and through much of the rest of the season, the highest level of risk shifts to the Carolinas."

At the tail-end of the season, the Northeast and southern Florida will be most at risk from storms, he said.

This year features fewer named storms than last year's record of 28, but will still be a season of above-average storm frequency, AccuWeather said in the press release.

Last year, there were eight tropical storm landfalls in the U.S., including two separate strikes by Katrina as the storm crossed the Florida peninsula and then plowed into the central Gulf Coast in late August. Four of these were major hurricanes - with winds over 110 mph: Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

Hurricane Katrina was the costliest storm on record, causing more than $80 billion in damage.