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Tropical Storm Nate Grows Stronger, Katia and Maria Weaken

Tropical Storm Nate is expected to become a hurricane today, forcing energy companies to begin evacuating platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical Storm Maria and Hurricane Katia will probably weaken in the Atlantic.

Nate’s top winds are 70 miles (113 kilometers) per hour, just under the threshold of 74 mph needed to be a hurricane, according to an advisory from the U.S. National Hurricane Center at 7 p.m. East Coast time. The storm has been lashing Petroleos Mexicanos rigs in the Bay of Campeche and its final track is still in question.

“There remains a very large spread in the guidance,” according to a hurricane center forecast analysis. “However, models have generally shifted westward.”

The hurricane center track takes Nate on a northwesterly course toward the Texas-Mexico border. Most computer models take the storm farther to the west, while at least one brings Nate across the central Gulf of Mexico.

The Gulf is home to 27 percent of U.S. oil output and 6.5 percent of natural-gas production. About 14.8 percent of the oil and 6.8 percent of gas output are still shut because of Tropical Storm Lee, which passed through the Gulf last week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said today.

Gulf Evacuations

BP Plc and Apache Corp. began evacuations of some workers in the Gulf because of Nate. The BP decision affects non-essential workers at the Atlantis, Holstein and Mad Dog platforms, according to a message on a telephone hotline today. Apache’s removal of non-essential workers from facilities in the far western Gulf hasn’t affected production, Bill Mintz, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail today.

“It is a very uncertain situation right now,” Tom Downs, a meteorologist with Weather 2000 Inc. in New York, said in a telephone interview. “The computer model runs are bouncing all over the place.”

Nate is 110 miles west of Campeche, Mexico, according to the hurricane center advisory.

Two of the major forecasting models used by meteorologists showed different tracks for the storm, said Travis Hartman, a meteorologist with MDA EarthSat Weather in Gaithersburg, Maryland. One model took Nate into the oil- and gas-producing regions, he said. The other showed the storm heading into Mexico.

No Consensus

“We don’t have any sort of agreement that is going to make us feel comfortable,” Hartman said by telephone. “It still bears watching.”

Downs said the exact track Nate takes may also influence its strength.

“Texas is pretty much like a desert right now,” he said. “The northwestern Gulf of Mexico is dry and it would be choked off. Basically you have a stronger storm if it stays farther to the south and a weaker storm that moves farther north.”

Tropical Storm Maria prompted storm watches throughout the Lesser Antilles, including Antigua, Saint Kitts and Martinique, according to the hurricane center. A storm watch means winds of at least 39 mph, with heavy rain, may occur within two days.

The center warned residents of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to watch out for Maria. The storm is less organized, and there’s a chance it may break up into what is called a tropical wave, which means it won’t have the cohesion of a tropical system and instead will be a mass of thunderstorms, according to a hurricane center forecast analysis.

Maria’s Future

Maria was 490 miles east of the Windward Islands with 40 mph winds, down from 45 mph earlier today, and moving west at 21 mph, according to the center. The storm may be downgraded to a tropical depression in the next couple of days, the hurricane center said.

In Bermuda, tropical storm watches posted because of Hurricane Katia have been dropped, the center said. Katia’s top winds have dropped to 85 mph from 90 mph earlier today.

It was 330 miles northwest of Bermuda and is moving north at 6 mph, according to a 5 p.m. advisory. The storm is expected to move northeast into the Atlantic through the remainder of the week. Katia is a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

“The forecast takes the remnants of Katia north of the British Isles in about four days,” according to the hurricane center. “Katia will remain a powerful cyclone.”

It will be near the coast of Norway by next week and will have 60 mph winds in five days, the hurricane-center forecast showed.

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