Unclear if tropical storm Alex will hit oiled Gulf


MIAMI — Tropical storm Alex formed in the Western Caribbean Saturday, and forecasters said it was unclear if it would hit the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said early Saturday that the storm has maximum sustained winds of about 40 mph (65 kph). Most storm prediction models show Alex traveling over the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico over the weekend, but they no longer have it going across the oil spill once it reaches the Gulf, hurricane forecaster Jack Bevens said.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for the coast of Belize and the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, which separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s too early to tell if the storm will hit the northeastern part of the Gulf, where the spill has spread over the past 10 weeks, Bevens said. While the current forecast track has the storm shifting away from the spill, Bevens noted that could change.

Somewhere between 69 million and 132 million gallons of crude have spewed into the water since the rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.

The storm raises concerns over what might happen to efforts to contain the oil if BP is forced to abandon the area for a while. An armada of ships is working in the Gulf.

A cap has been placed over the blown-out undersea well and it is carrying some of the oil to a surface ship where it is being collected. Some of the oil is being brought to the surface and burned. Other ships are drilling two relief wells, projected to be done by August, and are the best hope to stop the leak.

Forecasters have said they can’t speculate about what rough weather would do to oil in the water.

The depression is on track to reach the peninsula by late Saturday. It is about 220 miles (355 km) east of Belize City and about 250 miles (400 km) east-southeast of Chetumal.

Meanwhile in the Pacific, two major hurricanes are swirling but don’t pose an immediate threat to land. Darby has weakened to a Category 2 storm, with maximum sustained winds near 110 mph (or 175 kph).

The hurricane is about 300 miles (480 kilometers) southwest of Zihuatanejo, Mexico. It’s heading west-northwest near 6 mph (9 kph).

Hurricane Celia has weakened to a Category 2 storm farther out in the Pacific. Celia’s maximum sustained winds have decreased to 100 mph (160 kph). It is about 880 miles (1415 kilometers) southwest of the southern tip of Baja California. The hurricane center says Celia is approaching cooler waters and is expected to continue weakening.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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