Tropical Storm Alex Threatens the Gulf and Oil-Spill Cleanup

BP oil spill
BP oil spill

A tropical storm named Alex has built to the east of the Gulf of Mexico, where oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon explosion has been spewing into the ocean for some two months now. If the storm, which is moving west by northwest, hits the oil spill area, it could delay cleanup for two weeks -- and leave the Deepwater Horizon well uncapped for 14 days, spewing 840,000 barrels of oil at the higher end of federal estimates. That's 35 million gallons over two weeks, according to McClatchy.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who's heading the federal cleanup operation, says he'll have to redeploy people and equipment to safer areas five days before gale-force winds hit. There are many ships working on the cleanup in the Gulf. It's unclear if the storm will hit the oil spill area.

According to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fact sheet, the storm's surges "may carry oil into the coastline and inland as far as the surge reaches.... The high winds may distribute oil over a wider area, but it is difficult to model exactly where the oil may be transported." The agency says a hurricane passing to the west of the spill could drive oil to the coast, while one passing to the east would do the opposite.

National Hurricane Center (NHC) maps show Alex in the Western Caribbean near Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula. The NHC image below shows predictions as of 10am today of the storm's speed and movements.

The National Weather Service posted a weather outlook at 8am today, saying there was a 10% chance that the system could be come a tropical cyclone. That percentage is updated periodically. There's another large storm further to the East but it's too early to tell the future strength and direction of that system.

The government's Climate Prediction Center reported on May 27 that "the 2010 hurricane season could see activity comparable to a number of extremely active seasons since 1995. If the 2010 activity reaches the upper end of our predicted ranges, it will be one of the most active seasons on record." That includes a 70% probability of 8 to 14 hurricanes and 3 to 7 major hurricanes.