Will Hurricane Season Mean “Oilmageddon” For The United States?

Will Hurricane Season Mean "Oilmageddon" For The United States?The 2010 hurricane season – combined with the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill – could prove devastating to the entire South and Mexico, dropping millions of gallons of “oil rain” and sending surges of oil far inland, a potential “Oilmageddon,” according to Shark Divers.

From al.com:

On the negative side, the Los Angeles Times quotes AccuWeather forecaster Joe Bastardi as saying a strong storm could not only send the oil slick north toward the coast, but oil droplets could become airborne and move inland.

The possibility of “oil rain” is a whole new environmental effect to worry about, especially if a storm were to move inland and rain itself out across the United States.

And from AccuWeather itself:

Depending on the strength and track of tropical storms, periodic rough seas could be a serious problem for containment operations and may halt the process until the storms pass.

Strong winds could steer amount of the existing surface oil slick toward the northern Gulf Coast or elsewhere. High winds from a hurricane could also cause some oil to become airborne in blowing spray, while a storm surge could carry contaminants inland.

Nobody really knows what will happen if a hurricane hits the oil slick, as it has apparently never happened on this scale before. But we are likely to find out this season, as Colorado State forecasters predict a big hurricane season, according to the AFP:

With just three weeks before the Atlantic hurricane season lurches into action, odds are more than 40 percent that a big storm could cross the giant spill gushing from beneath a ruptured well on the seabed …

Last month, forecasters who issue a closely watched Colorado State University seasonal forecast said there was a 44 percent chance a hurricane would enter the Gulf of Mexico in the next few months, far greater than the 30 percent historic average.

There is conjecture that an oil slick will weaken a developing hurricane, preventing water from being sucked up into the storm. Or that a storm will help break up the oil slick, making it less dangerous. More from al.com:

USA Today says the spill could actually “help put a damper on hurricane formation in the Gulf, by putting a barrier between the atmosphere and the ocean.”

It quotes Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center, as saying the oil could lessen the evaporation of water into the air — an effect that normally fuels the development of tropical storms.

Or not. From Bloomberg:

A hurricane entering the Gulf while the slick is still there would be “an unthinkable bio-environmental catastrophe,” said Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist for Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.

“This surge would serve to bring a wall of poisonous, toxic water and oil well inland,” Rouiller said. “Water systems for the public would probably have to shut down. Even a tropical storm would pose potentially long-term and catastrophic impacts to the Gulf Coast.”

The hurricane would also mix the oil and possibly spread it around the Gulf, said Jeff Masters, founder of Weather Underground Inc. in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The concept of “oil rain” is based on the idea that “micro-droplets” of oil will be small enough to be be sucked into a developing storm. And what is one of the primary methods being used in the Gulf right now? “Dispersants” that break oil into micro-droplets.

These chemicals are an unknown quantity in this spill, says Project Nola.com:

Basically, dispersants work the same way dishwashing liquid works on grease.

When applied at the surface, they break up the oil into tiny droplets, before it’s consumed by micro-organisms.

But it’s never been used 5000 feet below the sea’s surface to try to break up oil before it rises.

“This is a real novel new idea that is unique to this one incident to consider injecting dispersents at the sea floor to try to enhance the mitigation, the dispersion at the surface,” says Charlie Henry, a scientist with NOAA.

Another likely problem? That the oil spill will get sucked into a current that could take oil as far north as North Carolina, dropping oil along thousands of miles of new coastline. More from Accuweather:

The Loop Current, located in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, is a concern, as it links to the Gulf Stream, which carries warm water northward along the Atlantic Seaboard.

In theory, if the oil slick were to get caught in the Loop Current, it could be transported to the Gulf Stream around Florida waters, then up part of the East Coast, potentially impacting wildlife and shoreline communities along the way.

Right now, Bloomberg says winds have changed and are pushing the slick towards Louisiana and its wetlands, instead of towards Florida. At this point, however, in either place, there is little the average person can do with hurricane season looming, except hope the oil leak gets plugged and that the hopeful predictions are true. From mysuncoast.com:

“You can try to support and take action, you can donate money or hours or whatever, but a lot of it is looking at the heavens and praying,” says Lido Key resident Nigel Mould.

Photo by kevindooley

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Nathan Hegedus blogs about the changing nature of fatherhood and life on paternity leave in ”socialist” Sweden at Dispatches from Daddyland. He has lived for the past two years in Stockhol ...read more

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