Saturday, June 26, 2010

Storm Clouds

Update late Saturday from Houston Chronicle: "Tropical Storm Alex strengthened Saturday as it careened toward the Gulf of Mexico with 65-mph winds approaching hurricane status. Officials are keeping a close eye on the first named storm of the season, which looks likely to avoid Houston and to remain at least 400 miles from cleanup efforts of the largest oil spill in U.S. history. A change, however, could force BP to temporarily abandon cleanup efforts in the Gulf, where oil has been gushing since an offshore drilling rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers.

Most computer models predict that Alex will head over the Yucatan Peninsula by this morning and weaken as it reaches into Mexico later in the week. A tropical storm warning was issued for Belize's coast and the Yucatan Peninsula's east coast, where rainfall could reach 15 inches.

The storm's presence — and the new hurricane season - is forcing the team overseeing the spill site to make contingency plans. Any system with winds over 46 mph could stop work, and a full evacuation could delay cleanup for two weeks, officials said, adding that it could take about five days to get workers and equipment out of harm's way if the storm threatens. "

Jeff Masters figures the chances of Alex heading for the oil gusher at 10%.

[Early Saturday]
As of now the tropical depression near Honduras has become Tropical Storm Alex, ( as weather guru Jeff Masters predicted.) He cited an historical analysis of 19 similar storms shows that 5 of them hit the Gulf of Mexico.

But warmer waters etc. are making rather than following history. The Houston Chronicle reports: "The probable formation of Tropical Storm Alex in the western Caribbean Sea from such a wave has some meteorologists concerned because it's early for African waves to become so well organized."

The latest storm track doesn't have it heading for the Gulf, nor becoming very intense, though both could change. The HC article notes: "About 60 percent of the named storms during a given year form from African waves. But about 85 percent of the category 3 and stronger hurricanes, the most intense and damaging ones, originate from African waves." And if it tracks to the Gulf, it could arrive there as soon as Sunday.

Strong storms used to appear not much earlier than August, but all bets are off this year--as we hope the federal government realizes. On prepardedness, Gulf oil gusher point man Admiral Thad Allen gave some mixed messages Friday, settling on "We have a very robust hurricane contingency plan." But it would take several days to shut things down and move people away--which in itself would increase the amount of oil gushing. A storm would also threaten the relief wells, and at best would slow down their completion.

A storm would probably also further scatter the oil. Nobody really knows--or could know--whether it would dissipate it or make it a great deal worse. But if such a storm threatens, this would be a good time to make the effort bigger and more visible--with Navy ships and skimmers offered from foreign countries.

While contrary to some interpretations, the oil gusher does not seem to be adversely affecting President Obama's standing, a storm in the Gulf is a necessary opportunity for bold leadership, for fast and appropriately scaled response.

As for ongoing efforts to deal with the continuing and accumulating damage,Climate Progress has published a detailed and reasoned case for why the berms won't work--the solution that Louisiana Governor Jindal has been touting, and that CNN has been covering like not building them is irresponsible and tragic. This case should have been made by the Obama administration weeks ago. Maybe it was, and wasn't reported, but let's face it--they have to find a way to communicate effectively. But there have also been reports that there aren't enough oil skimming ships out there, and that other countries have offered some. I'd like to see some answers on that.

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