Tropical Storm Debby held steady in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida Panhandle after shifting away from oil- and natural gas-production areas where Anadarko Petroleum Corp., BP Plc and rivals halted output.
Debby’s top winds are 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour, down from 60 mph earlier, as the storm sat about 90 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 8 a.m. East Coast time. Little change in speed or strength is expected in the next day or two, the NHC said.
The storm’s track has moved away from Louisiana toward northwestern Florida. The NHC’s current forecast calls for a possible Panhandle landfall on June 29 with drenching rains, coastal flooding and isolated tornadoes, but warns that the track remains undetermined.
The Gulf of Mexico is home to 6.5 percent of U.S. natural gas production, 29 percent of oil output and 40 percent of refining capacity. Offshore oil and natural gas platforms need to carry out evacuations in advance of a storm’s arrival so any system in the Gulf can cause production disruptions.
The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said yesterday that 23 percent of both oil and gas production in the Gulf has been halted. Natural gas rose for a third day in New York.
Anadarko, BP, Apache Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, BHP Billiton Ltd., Murphy Oil Corp., Marathon Oil Corp., Nexen Inc., Enterprise Products Partners LP and Hess Corp. have all evacuated some personnel from Gulf platforms.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc moved 360 people yesterday and shut production at the Auger and Enchilada/Salsa platforms. BP, ConocoPhillips and Marathon completed shut-ins over the weekend.
The storm will never get strong enough to pose a physical threat to most offshore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf, said Jim Rouiller, a senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc.
“I don’t anticipate any real damage at all; those rigs, especially the modern ones, are built to handle a good-sized hurricane,” Rouiller said from Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
The storm track guidance remains “all over the place with some models taking Debby west and north of its current position and others moving east or northeast and ultimately into the Atlantic,” the NHC said today in a discussion note.
AccuWeather Inc. Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski concurred with Rouiller on Debby’s strength. “We have it staying as a tropical storm,” said Pydynowski from State College, Pennsylvania.
A tornado spawned by the storm was blamed for the death of a man at an Alabama beach, the Associated Press reported. Isolated tornadoes are possible today across the eastern Florida Panhandle and western and central portions of the Florida peninsula, the NHC said. It warned of the threat of flash floods across northern Florida and southern Alabama.
Debby’s winds extend up to 200 miles, mainly north and east of the center, so they will sweep the coast as it nears land, the NHC said. Accuweather is calling for landfall in Florida as early as tomorrow.
Coastal Florida in any case runs the risk of flooding as it gets soaked with heavy rains for the next several days.
“Florida is low-lying and won’t drain well,” Pydynowski said. “Tampa has already had two inches of rain over the last day and that is just going to keep coming.”
Debby will produce 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) of rain over eastern parts of the Florida Panhandle and northern Florida with isolated areas getting 15 inches, the NHC advisory said. The combination of a storm surge and the tide will cause dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters, it said.