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Hurricane Season in Gulf Could Spell Further Disaster

Posted on 18 May 2010

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Hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico, which runs from June 1 through the end of November, could spell further disaster in the region with BP's oil spill still not under control. Storms could impede clean-up efforts, force containment vessels to retreat, or propel spilled crude and tar balls over vast expanses of sea and beach, according to scientists.

According to a recent article in Reuters, meteorologists say that climate conditions are ripe for an unusually destructive hurricane season. Oceanographers say that could hurt the clean-up.

"If a storm comes into this situation it could vastly complicate everything," said Florida State University oceanography professor Ian MacDonald.

"All efforts on the shoreline and at sea, the booms and structures and rigs involved in clean-up and containment, could stop working."

As thousands of spill responders gird for a clean-up that could last for months or years after the leaking well is capped, weather and ocean currents are emerging as major unknowns, raising anxiety levels, economic and environmental stakes in the Gulf as storm season nears.

Compounding the uncertainty is how little research has been done on how storms affect oil spills. Some believe storm surges may help disperse the oil off shore or break down the slick. Other research suggests the oil slick itself could keep storms from gathering strength.

Recent Atlantic Basin readings showed water temperatures up to 0.8 degrees Celsius above normal, and near a record high for the season. El Nino, which creates wind shear that can prevent Gulf hurricanes from forming, has recently subsided. The factors could spur major storms in the Gulf this year, as they did in 2005 when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf coast.

"It only takes one storm to wreak havoc," said Chris Shabbot, a meteorologist at Sempra in Connecticut. "The consensus forecast is for above average storm activity as the El Nino (event) decays and the Atlantic is as warm or warmer than 2005."

Colorado State University's renowned team of forecasters is calling for an above-average hurricane season that may bring 15 named storms this year, eight of hurricane strength.

Accuweather's Joe Bastardi also fears a destructive season.

"I hate to say it since the oil spill is already affecting people, but I think this hurricane season is going to be big," he said in an interview.

The next official hurricane season outlook from the government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is due on May 20.