Miami and the Florida Keys face a 61 percent to 80 percent chance of being hit with tar balls from BP Plc’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to U.S. projections.
Shorelines with the greatest chance of being soiled by oil, 81 percent to 100 percent, stretch from the Mississippi River Delta to the western Panhandle of Florida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today in a statement on its projection for the next four months.
Much of Florida’s west coast has a “low probability” of “oiling” from the leak that began with an explosion on a BP-leased drilling rig on April 20, the agency said.
The Florida Keys, Miami and Fort Lauderdale face a greater risk because oil may be caught up in the Loop Current, a flow of warm water that snakes into the Gulf and then moves east, NOAA said. Scientists say the current could carry the oil at a speed of about 100 miles (161 kilometers) a day around the tip of Florida, potentially fouling the Keys and Miami Beach.
Any oil reaching South Florida would already be in an advanced stage of degradation and would be in the form of “scattered tar balls and not a large surface slick of oil,” NOAA said.
The chance of oil reaching east-central Florida and the Eastern Seaboard are 20 percent to less than 1 percent, according to NOAA. The likelihood that areas north of North Carolina are hit becomes “increasingly unlikely,” the agency said.
Pensacola Beach Advisory
In northwest Florida, a beach advisory took effect today in Escambia County, which includes the white sands of Pensacola Beach.
An “oil impact notice” issued by local health officials advises people to avoid swimming or making contact with oil if they see or feel it on the beach or in the water. The notice will stay in place until the region’s beaches are no longer affected by the BP spill, according to a county news release.
Officials are also warning the public to use caution when digging in the sand because oil may be buried underneath, and they say pregnant women, children ages 5 and younger and people with compromised immune systems should avoid skin contact with sand and water that have been affected by the oil.
Signs with the warnings will be posted along the beaches today, Escambia County spokeswoman Sonya Daniel said.