A tropical depression in the eastern Gulf of Mexico dissipated before reaching the coast, where as much as 8 inches of rain may fall by the weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The system, with maximum sustained winds of 30 miles (45 kilometers) per hour, was about 170 miles south of Mobile, Alabama, and moving northwest at 12 mph, a center advisory reported just before 5 p.m. Miami time. Its remnants were expected to wash ashore overnight somewhere from southeastern Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
The storm was forecast to push seas to about 12 feet in the area where BP Plc is drilling a relief well to permanently plug the source of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, according to the National Weather Service in Slidell, Louisiana.
Work on the well was stopped yesterday, and drilling can probably resume Aug. 16 or 17 after the storm passes, National Incident Commander Thad Allen said today at a press conference in Mobile, Alabama. The relief-well rig and other ships will ride out the storm, Allen said.
“These vessels have sea-keeping capability that does not make it a hazard to work in 12-foot seas,” Allen said. ‘It does make it problematic if you’re trying to drill.”
The well must be killed before a survey can begin for possible recovery of the sunken Deepwater Discovery drilling rig, or recovery of safety equipment from the seabed that failed to prevent the well from blowing out April 20.
The so-called blowout preventer has been subpoenaed by U.S. prosecutors investigating the incident, and the U.S. Department of the Interior will oversee its removal, Allen said.
The hurricane center said 3 inches to 5 inches of rain was likely along the northern Gulf Coast, with 8 inches in some areas. The storm’s surge is expected to be 1 foot to 2 feet above normal along the coast and just east of where it goes ashore, the hurricane center said.
ERA Helicopters LLC reported today it had evacuated an unspecified number of oil and gas platforms in the storm’s path, and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. removed non-essential personnel from two operations.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm, saying in a statement posted on the state’s website that the declaration was needed “given the threatened tropical storm conditions and complicating factors created by the oil spill.”
The hurricane center is also tracking two other systems. One, in the central Atlantic, has been given a 50 percent chance of organizing into a cyclone in the next two days, and the other off northern South America has a 10 percent chance. A cyclone is a rotating weather system and includes depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes.
Jim Rouiller, a senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Pennsylvania, said the central-Atlantic system will stay at sea and won’t be a threat to the U.S. The other is worth watching, although it “still has a long way to go,” he said.
“I feel the Gulf will remain threat-free through the first half of next week,” Rouiller said.
After that, there are some threats looming, he said.
High-altitude winds called shear and dust from the Sahara that has been preventing African waves from growing into tropical cyclones are just about gone, Rouiller said.
“With low shear and little in the way of Saharan dust, these storm complexes that are emerging off Africa will have a free ride,” Rouiller said. “These storms that form off Cape Verde will be the real deal and not the teaser storms we’ve been dealing with.”