Tropical Storm Don formed in the waters off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on a track that will take it into southeastern Texas in two days, the National Hurricane Center said.
Don, the fourth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, is 120 miles (193 kilometers) north of Cozumel, Mexico, heading west-northwest with maximum winds of 40 miles an hour, according to a hurricane center bulletin just before 5 p.m. New York time.
“Gradual strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours,” the bulletin said. “Interests in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico should monitor the progress of Don.”
Storms are watched closely because they are a threat to oil and natural gas interests in the Gulf. The Gulf is home to 31 percent of U.S. oil output and coastal refineries account for 7.61 million barrels a day, or 42 percent of U.S. capacity.
Energy companies have begun pulling some workers from their facilities in the Gulf as a precaution. Royal Dutch Shell Plc said it’s evacuating about 70 non-essential workers, while Apache Corp. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the two largest U.S. independent oil and gas producers by market value, said they are removing non-essential workers from some western Gulf operations.
BP Plc has evacuated non-essential personnel from its Southern Green Canyon area, which includes the Atlantis, Mad Dog and Holstein platforms, according to a message recorded on the company’s hurricane hotline.
Other companies, such as Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips and Williams Cos., said they are monitoring the weather.
So far, ship traffic to Houston hasn’t been affected, said Prentice Danner, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard.
The storm could cause “very brief disruptions” in oil and gas production due to precautionary evacuations, said Chuck Watson, of natural catastrophe research firm Kinetic Analysis Corp. in Savannah, Georgia.
“Could see as much as 20% gas and 10% oil production shut in for a day or two, but given the fact it is unlikely to become a hurricane the values are likely to be smaller than that,” Watson, the group’s research director, said in a e-mail.
Don will probably go ashore somewhere between Galveston and Corpus Christi, Texas, on Friday, said Dan Kottlowski, expert senior meteorologist for AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. He doubts the storm will become a hurricane.
“It doesn’t look like a likely situation right now, but certainly it is not something we can rule out,” Kottlowski said.
Rain in Texas
The biggest factor in determining where the storm will go is the same high pressure system that’s driving temperatures into the 100s across much of the central and southern U.S., Kottlowski said by telephone. That system may act as a barrier to deflect the storm into Texas or Mexico, depending on its strength and exact location.
“The high pressure area to the north is expanding and contracting and that is going to guide this thing,” Kottlowski said.
If it weakens or shifts to the east, the storm may move farther north and even make it close to Houston, according to Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.
“Regardless of the exact track, we could see rain offsets to East Texas heat by Friday and maybe cooling rain influences in interior Texas by Saturday,” Rogers said in an e-mail.
It the high pressure system strengthens, it could push the storm south toward Mexico, Kottlowski said.
A weather system becomes tropical when it develops cyclone characteristics and becomes a named tropical storm when its winds reach at least 39 mph. A storm becomes a hurricane when winds hit 74 mph.