Tropical Storm Bonnie may fall apart as it continues across southern Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, where it has delayed efforts by BP Plc to plug its wrecked Macondo well, the National Hurricane Center said.
Computer models suggest the storm may weaken as it passes over Florida and dissipate, and conditions in the Gulf aren’t conducive for Bonnie to gain much strength, according to a center analysis.
About 28 percent of the Gulf’s U.S. oil production and 10 percent of natural-gas output has been halted by the storm, the government said.
“Bonnie could degenerate into a tropical wave as it crosses Florida, but the official forecast still shows some slight strengthening over the Gulf of Mexico,” the center said. The difference between the two outlooks is caused by statistical guidelines used when making forecasts.
Bonnie’s impact on the BP oil slick, the worst in U.S. history, is still unknown because forecasters can’t exactly say where the storm will go and how strong it will be when it gets there.
BP said the storm’s high seas made it necessary to move ships working on the relief wells that will be used to kill Macondo by pumping it full of mud and cement. That will set back completion of the plugging project to the end of August.
“It is a balloon in the wind, so whatever the pull is and the push is, is where it is going to go,” said Ken Graham, the National Weather Service meteorologist in charge of the Slidell, Louisiana, office. “It is all going to depend on the track.”
Graham said Bonnie may bring 8- to 10-foot seas to the slick and that may help break up the oil. He has been forecasting the weather specifically for the spill area since April and has seen some rough weather in the area since then.
“Whenever we get the high seas it is going to beat things up a lot,” Graham said. “When you start getting 8- to 10-foot seas it speeds up the biodegradation process.”
However, the storm could end up pushing the oil on shore and into marshes. Last month, waves from Hurricane Alex, the season’s first storm, drove oil into the coast.
Two weather systems on either side of Bonnie will likely keep it from developing, Graham said.
A high-pressure system over the U.S. East Coast, which will bring 95 to 100 degree temperatures to New York and Philadelphia, is east of the storm. To its west is an upper- level low-pressure system over the Gulf itself, Graham said.
Those two systems are creating high-level winds that are tearing at Bonnie, Graham said. They are also steering the storm, according to the hurricane center’s analysis.
Commercial forecasters are also calling for the storm to fail to develop.
“AirDat tropical models keep Bonnie as a minimal tropical storm through its lifespan with no period of real intensification,” wrote Allan Huffman, a meteorologist for AirDat LLC in North Carolina, which installs weather-gathering sensors on commercial aircraft.
AccuWeather Inc. predicts Bonnie will fluctuate between a tropical storm and tropical depression through Saturday, according to a statement from the State College, Pennsylvania- based forecaster.
Tropical storm warnings are posted along the northern Gulf coast from Destin, Florida, to Morgan City, Louisiana, as well as the state’s west coast as far north as Englewood. Warnings for the northwestern Bahamas as well as Florida’s east coast have been dropped. A warning means tropical storm conditions are expected within 36 hours, the hurricane center said.
Tropical-storm-strength winds extend about 85 miles from the center of the storm mainly on its northern and eastern sides, according to the center. Bonnie was about 55 miles east- southeast of Naples, Florida, and moving west-northwest at 18 mph shortly before 2 p.m. Miami time.
The storm is forecast to leave as much as 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain over southern Florida and will raise water levels by as much as 2 feet above ground level, according to the hurricane center.
Murphy Oil Corp. is shutting all of its production in the Gulf because of Bonnie. Platforms that have been shut or are in the process of halting output include ThunderHawk, Habanero, Medusa and Front Runner, Mindy West, a company spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
Williams Cos. is shutting gas production and evacuating personnel at its Canyon Station platform in the eastern Gulf, the company said in a bulletin. It shut its Devils Tower station yesterday. and 10 percent of natural-gas output, the U.S. government said.
Oil and gas producers report that 2 rigs and 11 production platforms have been evacuated due to the storm, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said today in a statement on its website. About 452,000 barrels of daily oil production are shut-in, along with 667 million cubic feet of gas.
The Gulf of Mexico is home to about 31 percent of U.S. oil output and about 10 percent of gas production, according to the Energy Department.
Bonnie is the second named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which is expected to be one of the most active on record, according to forecasters including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Colorado State University. The season, which began June 1, runs through November.