Tropical Storm Nate is expected to become the third hurricane of the Atlantic season today or tomorrow as it forced energy companies to evacuate platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and shut oil ports.
Tropical Storm Maria is forecast to strengthen, churning through the Virgin Islands today or tomorrow, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory. Hurricane Katia may weaken in the Atlantic.
Nate’s top winds are 65 miles (100 kilometers) per hour, below the threshold of 74 mph needed to be a hurricane, according to an NHC advisory at 8 a.m. East Coast time. The storm has been lashing Petroleos Mexicanos rigs in the Bay of Campeche and its final track is still in question.
“Nate is expected to become a hurricane either today or tomorrow,” the Miami-based NHC said in an advisory. “Conditions appear to be generally favorable for some intensification.”
The storm is about 125 miles west of Campeche, Mexico, moving northwest at 2 mph. Nate will gather pace and turn west by Sept. 11, the NHC said.
The Gulf is home to 27 percent of U.S. oil output and 6.5 percent of natural-gas production. About 14.8 percent of the oil and 6.8 percent of gas output are still shut because of Tropical Storm Lee, which passed through the Gulf last week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said yesterday.
The hurricane center track takes Nate on a northwesterly course toward the Texas-Mexico border. Most computer models take the storm farther to the west, while at least one brings Nate across the central Gulf of Mexico.
BP Plc and Apache Corp. began evacuations of some workers in the Gulf because of Nate. The BP decision affects non- essential workers at the Atlantis, Holstein and Mad Dog platforms, according to a message on a telephone hotline. Apache’s removal of non-essential workers from facilities in the far western Gulf hasn’t affected production, Bill Mintz, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail yesterday.
Petroleos Mexicanos, the state-owned oil company, closed three crude export terminals in the Gulf of Mexico because of Nate, according to a weather bulletin on the website of Mexico’s Merchant Marine. The company shut the terminal at Coatzacoalcos port yesterday, while two other Gulf ports, Dos Bocas and Cayo Arcas, have been closed since Sept. 7, it said.
The storm’s potential to disrupt Gulf oil and gas production may limit losses for crude oil in New York, which was down 1 percent at $88.17 a barrel as of 12:40 p.m. London time.
“It’s the supply side providing a floor to price,” said Andy Sommer, a senior trader at EGL AG in Dietikon, Switzerland. “We’re in the high point of the hurricane season, and every day there’s news of another storm.”
Two of the major forecasting models used by meteorologists showed different tracks for the storm, said Travis Hartman, a meteorologist with MDA EarthSat Weather in Gaithersburg, Maryland. One model took Nate into the oil- and gas-producing regions, he said. The other showed the storm heading into Mexico.
“It is a very uncertain situation right now,” Tom Downs, a meteorologist with Weather 2000 Inc. in New York, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “The computer model runs are bouncing all over the place.”
“We don’t have any sort of agreement that is going to make us feel comfortable,” Hartman said by telephone yesterday. “It still bears watching.”
Downs said the exact track Nate takes may also influence its strength.
“Texas is pretty much like a desert right now,” he said. “The northwestern Gulf of Mexico is dry and it would be choked off. Basically you have a stronger storm if it stays farther to the south and a weaker storm that moves farther north.”
Tropical storm warnings for Maria were in effect for the U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Antigua, Anguilla, Barbuda, Montserrat, Nevis, Saint Kitts, St. Martin, Saba and St. Eustatius and Guadeloupe, the NHC said in the advisory. Tropical storm conditions are expected in those areas within 36 hours.
“Some slight strengthening is possible during the next 48 hours,” the center said.
Maria was 185 miles east-northeast of Barbados, with 40 mph winds, down from 45 mph earlier, and the storm was moving west- northwest at 18 mph. The system may be downgraded to a tropical depression in the next couple of days, the hurricane center said in an earlier notice.
In Bermuda, tropical storm watches posted because of Hurricane Katia have been dropped, the center said. The hurricane’s top winds have fallen to 85 mph from 90 mph, and it may create “life-threatening surf and rip current conditions” in the U.S. East Coast and Bermuda.
Katia was 395 miles north-northwest of Bermuda and is moving northeast at 24 mph, according to a 5 a.m. advisory. The storm is expected to move northeast into the Atlantic through the remainder of the week, remaining “well south” of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, according to the center. Katia is a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.
It will be near the coast of Norway by next week and will have 60 mph winds in five days, the center’s forecast showed.
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