Just like the neighborhood swimming pool and major league baseball the Gulf of Mexico’s annual hurricane season has opening (June 1) and closing (November 30) dates. Predictions for the season just begun are that it will be “busy” to “active.”
Experts from NOAA and Colorado State University are anticipating 14 to 23 tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico, including five to ten hurricanes, two or three of them “major” (qualified by sustained winds of 111 mph). Typically there’s a one in three chance that one of the major’s will hit land; this year’s stats put it somewhere between 50 to 75 percent.
In a normal year those numbers would be worrying; this season is complicated by the 40 million gallons of loosed oil – 40 million gallons and still gushing!! – afloat on the Gulf’s surface, lying just below it or spreading in massive plumes down to 500 feet below sea level. The leak sits dead center in the superhighway that in past years has delivered hurricanes like Camille and Katrina deep inland.
The higher numbers are due to warmer-than-usual tropical Atlantic Ocean surface temperatures, which may be complicated by the fact that all that oil in the water is making surface temps even warmer.
“In this ‘untreaded water’ it’s tough to theorize about what would happen,” Joe Bastardi, chief long-range hurricane forecaster with AccuWeather.com told the AP.
Locals are understandably panicked by the thought of all those potential storm waters arriving laden with heavy crude. Hurricane winds would push the oil deeper into estuaries, wetlands and freshwater marshes, its waterspouts sucking up oily water and spreading it inland. Imagine a Katrina-like flood repeating in New Orleans, with its heavy surge waters filled with oil. The worst case? A long-lasting (4-5 day) storm out of the southeast, which could drive the storm surge as much as twenty miles inland.
For the rest of my report on the upcoming hurricane season, go to takepart.com.