Tropical Storm Maria, 13th of 2011, Joins Katia in Atlantic

Tropical Storm Maria Is 13th of 2011
Maria is forecast to pass north of Puerto Rico on Sept. 11 as a tropical storm. Photograph: NOAA

Tropical Storm Maria formed in the Atlantic, the 13th named system of the 2011 season, as Hurricane Katia weakened on its path around Bermuda.

Maria developed about 1,305 miles (2,100 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles with maximum winds of 50 miles per hour, moving west at 23 mph, according to an advisory from the National Hurricane Center at 11 a.m. Eastern time.

“We got the 13th named storm of the season and it’s in an environment that isn’t conducive to explosive strengthening,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the hurricane center. “In fact, we have it as a tropical storm through the end of the five-day forecast period.”

A low-pressure system over the southwestern Gulf of Mexico off the Yucatan Peninsula is showing “signs of organization” and has a 70 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression within two days, according to the center. An Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter aircraft is scheduled to investigate the system today.

That disturbance would have the greatest near-term threat to oil and gas interests in the Gulf, said Travis Hartman, a meteorologist at the commercial forecaster MDA EarthSat Weather in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Crude oil and natural gas futures climbed in New York as the system threatened to reduce U.S. production from the Gulf.

Gulf Energy

The Bay of Campeche, where conditions are conducive for spinning up strong storms, holds rigs and platforms owned by Petroleos Mexicanos. The Gulf is home to 27 percent of U.S. oil output and 6.5 percent of the country’s natural gas production.

The statistical peak of the six-month Atlantic hurricane season comes in three days, and this year has produced storms at a faster rate than 2010, when a total of 19 named systems roared through the basin. The 13th storm didn’t form until Sept. 23 last year.

Feltgen said the activity is in line with pre-season forecasts for an above-average storm season. A typical season produces 11 named systems, according to the hurricane center.

Since 1995, when the Atlantic entered a warming phase, the seasonal average has been 15, said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground Inc. in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

El Nino

The only things that have kept the storm numbers down since then are El Nino events, warmings of the central Pacific Ocean, Feltgen said. El Nino creates wind shear in the Atlantic that tears at storms.

The most active hurricane season on record was 2005, when 28 storms formed. That year, the 13th storm, also named Maria, arrived on Sept. 1.

“We have the 13th named storm and the 14th on the way before the halfway point of hurricane season,” said Masters, who used to fly on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane reconnaissance planes. “That gives me some concern.”

Masters said he doesn’t see anything to stop the current production of storms in the Atlantic. He said the basin may be entering an era where a total of 20 storms a year becomes commonplace.

“If we continue on this pace, we are going to challenge 2005,” Masters said. “That would make three of the last six years among the top five busiest hurricane seasons on record.”

Maria’s Path

Maria is forecast to pass north of Puerto Rico on Sept. 11 as a tropical storm.

Hurricane Katia’s top winds weakened to 85 mph from 90 earlier today as it moved about 325 miles southwest of Bermuda, where a tropical storm watch is in effect, the hurricane center said in an advisory at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Katia is expected to curve northeast past the island, steering clear of the U.S. East Coast, on a track that may take it north of the U.K. early next week.

Katia is currently a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. A system becomes a named storm when its sustained winds reach 39 mph, and a hurricane when winds hit 74 mph.

Crude oil futures rose as much as 4.3 percent as the disturbance in the Bay of Campeche strengthened. The Energy Department may report that inventories fell 2 million barrels last week as Lee shut output, according to a Bloomberg News survey. Oil also rose on speculation President Barack Obama will announce plans for more than $300 billion in stimulus.

Natural gas futures gained as much as 2.5 percent. Power plants use about 30 percent of the nation’s natural gas supplies, according to the Energy Department.

About 36.9 percent of U.S. Gulf oil production and 18.1 percent of natural gas output have been halted by Lee, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said today.

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