Hurricane Warning Posted for U.S. Gulf as Isaac Nears

Florida Braces as Isaac Set to Strengthen Into Hurricane
Area residents fill sand bags ahead of Tropical Storm Isaac in St. Pete Beach on Sunday. Photographer: Edward Linsmier/Getty Images

Tropical Storm Isaac is forecast to strengthen over the eastern Gulf of Mexico, closing oil and natural-gas production sites in its path and threatening four U.S. states with a possible hurricane.

The storm is about 180 miles (290 kilometers) southwest of Fort Myers, Florida, with top sustained winds of 65 miles per hour, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 5 a.m. today in Miami. It’s moving west-northwest at about 14 mph and is expected to become a hurricane in “a day or so” as it approaches the Gulf Coast. A hurricane warning is in effect along a 290-mile stretch from Louisiana to Florida.

Gasoline rose 3.4 percent and oil climbed as the storm shut 24 percent of U.S. oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and 8.2 percent of natural gas output, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said yesterday. The Republican Party’s national convention in Tampa was pushed back a day, even as Isaac tracked west of earlier forecasts that indicated it might hug Florida’s western coast.

Landfall Predicted

The storm could land near Biloxi, Mississippi, with winds of at least 105 mph, the center said. The hurricane warning, meaning winds of at least 74 mph are expected within 36 hours, includes the lakes surrounding New Orleans, which was devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. The center discontinued a hurricane watch for the Florida Panhandle from Destin to Indian Pass.

Computer models disagree about Isaac’s ultimate route, and the hurricane center is having difficulty pinpointing its path, Richard Pasch and Dave Roberts, specialists at the center and U.S. Navy, respectively, said in a forecast yesterday.

The revised forecast for Isaac may have spared Tampa, where Mitt Romney is expected to become the GOP presidential candidate. Delegates will convene today as scheduled and then recess until tomorrow, according to Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee Chairman.

Isaac is the ninth named storm system of this year’s hurricane season. Researchers at Colorado State University in early August raised their seasonal forecast by one, predicting 14 storms will form by the time the six-month season ends on Nov. 30. The 30-year average is for at least 12 storms, according to the hurricane center.

Price Impact

Oil for October delivery increased as much as $1.57 to $97.72 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange and was at $97.05 at 7:11 a.m. in New York. Natural gas for September delivery gained as much as 6.6 cents on the exchange and was at $2.748 per million British thermal units. Gasoline futures for September rose 3.4 percent and traded at $3.184 in New York.

“We think Tampa gets in the outer rain bands and some squally weather, some tropical storm force gusts, but they aren’t going to have those kinds of sustained winds,” said Dan Pydynowski, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “The storm is going to be too far to the west for that. They will notice it in Tampa but they are dodging a bullet and not taking a direct hit.”

BP Plc said yesterday it was evacuating personnel and halting all production in the Gulf. Chevron Corp. said that it had begun to move some essential personnel from offshore facilities, although output has not been affected. ConocoPhillips halted production at its Magnolia platform, the Houston-based company said on its website.

Murphy Evacuates

Murphy Oil Co. has suspended work and is evacuating its ThunderHawk facility and will evacuate its Medusa and FrontRunner operations, said Barry Jeffery, a spokesman for the company, in an e-mail yesterday.

Transocean Ltd. transferred 175 non-essential personnel from six of its 13 deep-water rigs in the Gulf, the company said yesterday in an e-mail. Four of Transocean’s moveable rigs have been repositioned to evade the storm, it said.

BHP Billiton Ltd. is evacuating its Shenzi and Neptune operations in the Southern Green Canyon area, said Victor M. Cock, a company spokesman, in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Marathon Oil Corp. said on its website that it’s moving non-essential personnel and no production has been shut in.

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. said it’s evacuating all personnel from its operated facilities and halting production in the eastern and central Gulf. Transocean Ltd. has transferred 110 non-essential workers off four deep water rigs, according to Guy Cantwell, a company spokesman. He said it’s also moving two rigs.

Apache Output

Apache Corp. moved about 750 workers and contractors from operations in the eastern Gulf, curtailing 24,000 barrels of oil and 91 million cubic feet of gas per day, the company said on its website.

Phillips 66 is temporarily shutting down its 247,000 barrel-a-day Alliance refinery at Belle Chasse, Louisiana, the company said in a statement on its website. The refinery shutdown is expected to be completed today, and non-essential staff have been released from work, the company said. Its 239,000 barrel-a-day Lake Charles refinery at Westlake hasn’t been affected by the storm, Phillips 66 said.

Flights Grounded

At least 696 flights had been canceled in the U.S. as of 2 p.m. yesterday, according to FlightAware, an airline tracking company in Houston. Most of the cancellations occurred in Miami, where 223 departures and 245 arrivals were scrubbed.

A tornado watch was posted in 15 counties in southern Florida.

Forecasting the track of a hurricane depends on predicting what the upper-level winds in the atmosphere will be doing, AccuWeather’s Pydynowski said. Hurricanes don’t move under their own power but are pulled and pushed by other weather patterns.

“The wind higher up is what is really steering these storms,” he said.

Isaac flooded Haiti with heavy rains on its path through the Atlantic and Caribbean and killed at least four people there, according to the Associated Press.

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