MIAMI — The Atlantic hurricane season could be the busiest since 2005, when Katrina and Rita caused massive destruction along the same part of the Gulf Coast now struggling with the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, government scientists said Thursday.

The 2010 season may spawn as many as 23 named tropical storms, including up to seven major hurricanes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted.

Eight to 14 storms could strengthen into hurricanes, with top winds of 74 mph or higher, the agency said. Three to seven of those could become storms that reach Category 3 or higher — meaning they have sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

“This season could be one of the more active on record,” NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said in a news release. “The greater likelihood of storms brings an increased risk of a landfall. In short, we urge everyone to be prepared.”

A hurricane might help break up the oil spill staining the Gulf of Mexico, but the oil won’t significantly affect how tropical storms develop, forecasters said. They don’t know what kind of environmental hazards to expect, though there are fears that wind and waves could push the oil deeper into estuaries and wetlands.

The 2010 government forecast is based on the weakening of El Nino. The Pacific Ocean phenomenon created strong wind shear that helped suppress storm development in the Atlantic last season. Record warm water temperatures also will feed storms crossing the Atlantic this year.

Three hurricanes developed out of nine tropical storms in 2009. None of the hurricanes came ashore in the United States. Hurricane Ida hit Nicaragua as a Category 1 storm in November.

Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, said his biggest concern for the season is a storm striking Haiti, where hundreds of thousands of people have been living in makeshift camps since the Jan. 12 earthquake. Heavy rains can trigger flooding and mudslides, but no evacuation plans exist for displaced communities.