Tropical Depression Forms in Gulf of Mexico, Disrupts Drilling of BP Well

A tropical depression has formed out of a group of thunderstorms in the Gulf of Mexico, where BP Plc has suspended drilling a relief well to permanently plug the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The system, located 260 miles (429 kilometers) south- southeast of Apalachicola, Florida, is moving northwest at 6 miles per hour and is expected to intensify into a tropical storm today, the National Hurricane Center said in a statement after 8 p.m. Miami time yesterday.

A tropical storm warning is in place from Destin, Florida, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, including Lake Pontchartrain and New Orleans, the center said. The storm may bring as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain along the north and northeast coast of the Gulf, home to about 31 percent of U.S. oil output.

The threat of the storm is likely to delay by two or three days BP’s efforts to intercept the damaged Macondo well to seal it with mud and cement, Incident Commander Thad Allen said in a conference call with reporters yesterday.

The weather system may intensify into a weak tropical storm, fed by heat from the Gulf’s warm waters, said Ken Graham, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. A high pressure dome that is baking the central U.S. is shifting, pushing the storm deeper into Louisiana rather than Texas as earlier forecast, Graham said.

The depression’s maximum sustained winds were 35 miles per hour, and the system is expected to turn west-northwest and move faster later today, the center said.

A tropical depression is a low-pressure system that has started to rotate and has its strongest winds at its center, according to Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the hurricane center.

A depression’s strongest sustained winds are less than 39 miles per hour, the threshold at which it becomes a tropical storm and is named. Danielle is the next name for an Atlantic storm, according to the hurricane center.

The hurricane center is also tracking two other systems. One in the central Atlantic has been given a 60 percent chance of organizing into a cyclone in the next two days, and a second off northern South America has a 10 percent chance.

To contact the reporters on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net; Stuart Biggs in Tokyo at sbiggs3@bloomberg.net

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