Tropical Storm Don May Strengthen Before Making Texas Landfall

Tropical Storm Don may experience some “slight” strengthening before making landfall on the Texas coast today, the National Hurricane Center said.

Don is about 335 miles (540 kilometers) southeast of Corpus Christi with maximum winds of 50 miles (72 kilometers) per hour, according to a National Hurricane Center bulletin issued before 2 a.m. East Coast time today. The system is forecast to go ashore near Corpus Christi as a tropical storm later today or early tomorrow, the center said.

Tropical storm warnings and watches are posted along the Texas coast from Galveston Island to the Mexican border.

“Don is a small-scale thing,” said Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania yesterday. “It is important for the energy industry to understand this will represent very little impact. There might be some brief, short-duration shut-ins and they may evacuate non-essential personnel, but the people who keep the pumps going will still be in business.”

Storms are watched closely because they are a threat to oil and natural gas interests in the Gulf, home to 31 percent of U.S. oil output and 7 percent of natural gas production. Coastal refineries account for 7.61 million barrels a day, or 42 percent of U.S. capacity.

Companies Prepare

Don has forced the closing of about 6.8 percent of oil production and 2.8 percent of gas output from the Gulf, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

Northern Natural Gas will shut production from its Matagorda Offshore Pipeline System in the Gulf that extends from Mustang Island to Tivoli, according to a notice for customers.

Enbridge Inc. said in a notice that it evacuated personnel from its West Cameron 509 platform and will allow gas to free-flow to shore.

BP Plc said yesterday it halted production at its Atlantis platform, and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. said it evacuated workers and shut in production at its Marco Polo, Nansen, Boomvang, Gunnison, Red Hawk and Constitution production facilities.

Apache Corp. evacuated 368 production employees and contractors from its facilities in the western Gulf, according to an update posted on the company’s website yesterday. The company said it has curtailed 15.5 million cubic feet of gas and 1,890 barrels of oil production per day.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc closed its Perdido Spar platform. Shell and Chevron Corp. said they were removing non-essential workers from some operations.

Rainfall Outlook

“Current expectations are that Don will remain south of the producing region in the Gulf” because of the high pressure area in the South that has caused weeks of extreme heat, said Travis Hartman, energy weather manager for MDA Earthsat Energy in Gaithersburg, Maryland yesterday. “Ultimately, Don will bring welcomed rain to some of the drought-stricken areas in Mexico and Texas while also creating some additional chatter in the markets as it is the first relevant system of the season.”

Don is expected to drop 3 inches to 5 inches of rain across drought-stricken southern Texas and as much as 7 inches in isolated areas, according to the center.

“Texas needs rain with a name,” state Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said in a statement. “Hopefully, this will be just the kickoff of a series of rain events to break the grip of this devastating drought.”

A weather system becomes a tropical storm when it develops cyclone characteristics, and becomes a named storm when winds reach at least 39 mph. A storm becomes a hurricane when winds hit 74 mph.

Possible Cyclone

Don is encountering dry air in the western Gulf, which along with wind shear may keep it from intensifying before it goes ashore, according to the hurricane center.

“The intensity guidance is in good agreement that Don will make landfall as a tropical storm and not as hurricane,” according to a hurricane center forecast analysis yesterday.

The storm is expected to fall apart in about three days.

The U.S. hasn’t had a direct hit from a tropical storm since Bonnie went ashore in Florida in July 2010. The last hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. was Ike, a Category 2 storm, in Texas in 2008.

Forecasters are also tracking an area of disturbed weather about 1,200 miles east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles that has a 30 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next two days, according to the hurricane center.

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