Forecasters: Tropical storm Alex forms in Caribbean; unclear if it will hit oiled Gulf

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Unclear if tropical storm Alex will hit oiled Gulf

MIAMI — Tropical Storm Alex was strengthening fast in the western Caribbean on Saturday, and forecasters said it too soon to say 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 65 mph (100 kph). Hurricane speed is at least 75 mph (120 kph).

The weather was deteriorating in Belize, Mexico, and along the Yucatan Peninsula, the hurricane center said. Most storm models show Alex traveling over the peninsula over the weekend, hurricane forecaster Jack Bevens said.

Bevens noted it’s too soon to say with certainty if the storm will pass over the oiled Gulf, though for now it’s not expected to hit the spill. A storm’s predicted track can quickly change as conditions shift.

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.

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 tropical storm is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east-southeast of Belize City and about 90 miles (145 kilometers) south-southeast of the Mexican city Chetumal. It was moving toward the west at about 12 mph (19 kph).

Meanwhile in the Pacific, two major hurricanes are swirling but don’t pose an immediate threat to land. Darby was weakening and was a Category 1 storm, with maximum sustained winds near 85 mph (140 kph).

The hurricane is about 310 miles (495 kilometers) south-southwest of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, and slowly headed west.

Hurricane Celia was moving over cooler water and weakening rapidly and barely a Category 1 storm farther out in the Pacific. Celia’s maximum sustained winds have decreased to 80 mph (130 kph). It is about 945 miles (1,520 kilometers) west-southwest of the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.

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