What if a hurricane were to slam into the oil slick?

Monday, May 24, 2010
By Paul Martin

May 24, 2010

While the oil leak disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is bad enough, many people have been wondering what could happen if a hurricane were to slam into the region.

AccuWeather.com hurricane expert Joe Bastardi is concerned about multiple threats from storms throughout the season in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bastardi attributes heat rising over the tropical Atlantic to a collapsing El Niño pattern in the Pacific. In turn, the rising warm, moist air over the tropical Atlantic is forecast to unleash a top-10 hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin.

With 16 to 18 tropical storms and/or hurricanes expected, a significant number of these are bound to make their way into the Gulf of Mexico. Bastardi expects a little more than 1 out of 3 tropical storms and/or hurricanes to impact U.S. coastal waters this season.

The hurricane seasons of 1998, 2005 and 2008 had similarities to the expected pattern this season.

Some locations could be hit by more than one storm.

In this scenario, much of the central and western Gulf of Mexico could be one of several targets for potential multiple tropical storm and/or hurricane landfalls this year.

Depending on the approach of a tropical storm or hurricane, increasing winds and building, massive seas would first halt containment operations.

Rough seas would dislodge or destroy protective booms, rendering them useless as the storm draws closer.

Next, as the storm rolls through, high winds on the right flank of a hurricane making landfall would cause some oil to become airborne in blowing spray. A storm surge could carry contaminants inland beyond bays, marshes and beaches to well developed locations.

Even a glancing blow from a hurricane passing to the west of the oil slick could be enough for winds and wave action to drive the goo nearby onshore, or to more distant fishing and recreation areas, perhaps in foreign waters.

During the age of sail, winds occasionally blew ships hundreds of miles offcourse. The wind could have the same effect on the oil slick.

Now, imagine several storms during the season doing the same thing.

There has been some speculation on the impact an oil slick might have on hurricane intensity, perhaps to the point of limiting the storm’s heat- and moisture-grabbing properties. However, high winds from the storm would probably mix the surface of the water and oil to the point, where it would not significantly have an impact.

Given the untimely nature of the weather, this could be a nasty summer and autumn dealing with hurricanes in the Gulf, Atlantic and Caribbean, their natural effects and disasters alone, let alone managing the complicating oil slick disaster from the short term weather.

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