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Date of Issue: July 14, 2010

Storms stir questions

Alex didn’t stir up strong surf along Anna Maria Island beaches, but the first hurricane of the 2010 season did stir up some questions.

As Alex churned in the Gulf of Mexico, building from a tropical storm into a hurricane before it made landfall June 30 near the Mexico/U.S. border, Islanders explored two common questions:

    • What will happen to a hurricane that runs through the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill?

    • What will be the impact of a hurricane on the growing spill, which remains 250 miles from the Tampa Bay area, but has impacted the northern Gulf coasts in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi?

“I’ve got to say it’s my greatest fear right now,” said Diana Ross of Perico Island. “How far can a hurricane carry oil?”

In the case of Alex, the storm pushed oil over booms and further into coastal zones of the Mississippi Delta and skimming operations offshore and nearshore were halted June 30 for several days.

Incident reports from the Deepwater Horizon command center indicated 10-foot waves rose over the site of the leak, about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, and there were winds as high as 29 mph.

Last week, the command center faced another situation as a tropical wave formed in the western Gulf of Mexico and became the season’s second tropical depression July 7.

The depression made landfall in Texas July 8 without developing into a tropical storm, but the severe weather did generate 2-4 feet waves along the Panhandle coast, and offshore waves of 6-8 feet.

In general terms, a hurricane could mix and weather the oil, possibly accelerating the biodegradation process, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

However, high winds could distribute oil over a wider area and storm surge could carry oil into the coastline and inland as for as the surge reaches.

In the most general terms, a hurricane’s winds rotate counter-clockwise, so a hurricane passing to the west of the spill could drive oil to the coast and a hurricane to the east of the spill could drive oil away from the coast, according to NOAA.

Scientists with the federal agency said hurricane-related rains would not be oily. Hurricanes draw water vapor from a large area and rain is produced in clouds circulating around the hurricane.

Forecasters have called for an active six-month Atlantic storm season, which began June 1. Researchers Philip Klotzbach and William Gray of Colorado State University, home to one of the leading forecast institutes, predicted 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes — four of them major.

The remaining storm names for 2010 are: Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Gaston, Hermine, Igor, Julia, Karl, Lisa, Matthew, Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tomas, Virginie and Walter.

The height of the hurricane season generally is in August, the same month BP hopes to have completed the drilling of two relief wells intended to stem the flow of oil from the Deepwater Horizon site.