This Hurricane Season Looks Rough. What if One Hits the Oil Spill?

By Andrew Moseman | May 28, 2010 1:49 pm

Hurricane_OpalWith hurricane season fast approaching, the official forecasts are coming out. And they’re not good. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that between 14 and 23 storms could reach the severity level of a tropical storm—the point at which they get a name.

Of those, eight to 14 are expected to become hurricanes. From three to seven of these could become major hurricanes, with winds exceeding 111 miles an hour. This compares with a long-term average of 11 named storms per season, with six becoming hurricanes and two becoming major hurricanes [Christian Science Monitor].

The warning signs are alarming even experienced hurricane watchers.

The tropics are even warmer than the toasty waters that spurred the 2005 hurricane season into such dizzying activity, with 28 named storms including Katrina, Rita and Wilma…. “The coming season looks very active based upon the latest data we’ve seen,” said Phil Klotzbach, who along with Colorado State University scientist Bill Gray publishes a widely regarded seasonal forecast. “The tropics are super warm right now” [Houston Chronicle].

Klotzbach and Gray predict 15 major storms and eight full-on hurricanes. But they warn that these predictions are an inexact science, so just because some conditions look similar to 2005 doesn’t meant there’ll be another Katrina.

One factor of great interest this year is the BP oil spill. What happens if a hurricane tears through the Gulf of Mexico, right where all the spilt crude lingers? As DISCOVER blogger Chris Mooney wrote for Slate, it depends:

Much depends on the angle at which the storm crosses the slick. In the Northern Hemisphere, hurricanes rotate counterclockwise, with the largest storm surge occurring where the winds blow in the direction the storm as a whole is traveling—that’s in front of the eye and off to the right…. So if a powerful storm approached the slick from the southwest, say, its most potent winds would push the oil forward, instead of sweeping it off to the side and out of the storm’s path. If the storm then plowed into the Gulf Coast, you’d expect an oily landfall [Slate].

However, there’s also the possibility that things won’t be so bad: It may not come in at that angle, and a hurricane’s rage could help to disperse the oil more, which could speed up the rate at which it degrades.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Does Global Warming Really Boost Hurricanes?
The Intersection: Hurricane v. Oil Slick
Bad Astronomy: Chris Mooney, Hurricanes, and Warming the Globe
80beats: We Did the Math: BP Oil Spill Now Worse Than the Exxon Valdez

Image: NOAA (Hurricane Opal, 1995)

  • wperry1

    Not mentoined here is the blackness of the oil which could result in additional warming of the surface water. Warmer surface water means stronger hurricaines. You also did not mention the effect of the varius hydrocarbons that will evaporate and be picked up and carried on-shore by the clouds.

  • Wilson


    More like qualified speculation. “Widely regarded”? Look at their record.

    Stuff like this belongs in the Farmers Almanac and NOT in a science magazine.

    All we need to know are the previous season averages, not “alarming” speculation.

  • eddie munstser

    how does one drive in an oil storm? is it going to be worse than snow and ice…. and what if i throw a cigarette but out the window?

    WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!!!!!

  • Alla Solodova

    I am afraid to dissapoint you, but the mixing of oil in the volume of ocean will never lead to the biodegradation just because of huge mass of spill. If it were just a drop of oil, it would be true, but for the present situation this is not case to be optimistic=( The hurricane will ill the life in the depth of the ocean.
    Also, Eddie Munster, you had to have an idea about the force of gravitation… Mostly, the oil will be kept within the ocean and partly it wil be thrown out to the coast. You should be afraid of oily rain.

    Kind regards,

  • Sean Meaney

    “You should be afraid of oily rain.” – I would be a little concerned about what a Cyclone (or hurricane) does with water at 120mph. Last one I was in picked up frogs (from god knows where) and sprayed what could only be described as a horizontal puree of nasty. The last thing you would want is a horizontal oil spray travelling at 120 km/h anywhere near an electrical storm.
    This oil spill + Hurricane is a recipe for disaster.

  • Bernard

    If the USA can get a doomed space craft from the moon, surely they can work out how to stop the oil from this pipe, Even if it is a mile down!.

  • Akshay

    Bernard does have a point. I wonder if NASA could/should help out here.

  • Napoleon

    I don’t know understand why BP’s assets are not on freeze until they clean up their mess. We could freeze assets of countries involved in terrorism but no one is doing anything to BP!?! Like a slap on their wrist. Damn! No wonder why other countries hate us. I hate this country too when you look at how pathetic our government is, and would love to see it blown up one day.

  • Katharine

    Somehow I suspect that oil mixed with hurricane will equal disaster, particularly considering the possibility that there will be fires.

  • Buddy Korwatch

    Once I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now every time a remark is added I get four emails with the identical comment. Is there any manner you can take away me from that service? Thanks!


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