Kenneth Chang covers the same basic ground as my Slate piece, and comes to the same conclusions. A slick is not going to slow down a storm, but a storm could fling a slick everywhere. Of course, it all depends on the particular path of the storm, etc.
Granted, the story becomes more pressing now because of the failure of the “top kill” method of plugging the well. We’re on to Plan C now, followed by Plan D, but if they all fail then the relief wells won’t be finished (allegedly) til August. That’s right when the serious part of hurricane season begins–although, again, if we’re in for a mega year like 2005, then you can have an early forming Category 4 (like Dennis) in July.
I’m trying to find the bright side in all of this…but I’m really not seeing it.
Below, incidentally, is the track of Dennis in 2005. A storm along such a path might actually push oil away from land, given that it would be approaching the nearshore part of slick from the southeast. In this scenario, the winds over the bulk of the slick would (I believe, just by eyeballing it) be blowing back out to sea. That isn’t the worst case scenario, but such a storm would also surely shut down all clean up or well plugging efforts….
I have to say, I am a bit staggered by just how severe the forecast from NOAA is for the Atlantic hurricane year 2010. We know these predictions aren’t always spot on, but they get increasingly accurate as the season nears–and now just before June 1, NOAA is calling for 14-23 named storms, 8-14 hurricanes, and 3-7 major hurricanes.
In short, they’re calling for a year that would almost rival the worst year on record–2005–the year of Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.
And of course, it hardly helps matters that we have tons of oil in the Gulf this year. If NOAA’s forecast is really correct, it’s hard for me to imagine that there won’t be a number of storms that get into the Gulf and threaten to disrupt clean up operations and/or to drive oil all over the place.
This makes success in BP’s ongoing “top kill” effort pretty crucial. If they can’t get the spill stopped now, and it keeps pouring out oil well into the summer, then there will be hurricanes to contend with–and in a bad year, like 2005, the really strong ones can even come in July.
For more on what would happen if a strong hurricane hit the oil slick, check out my Slate.com piece on this subject.
This just in: Michael Mann of Penn State (working with grad student Michael Kozar) has also just released a seasonal hurricane forecast–and it is even scarier. Due to the strong heat anomaly in the Atlantic’s “main development region” for hurricanes, Mann and Kozar forecast between 19 and 28 storms this season!
I’ve just done a Slate piece elaborating on what would happen if a hurricane hit the Gulf oil slick, based upon further research and interviewing. Here’s an excerpt:
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. (Meteorologists worry over a hurricane’s dangerous “right-front quadrant.”) 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.
And how would the slick affect the storm? Not much if at all:
…by the time winds reach hurricane force (greater than 74 mph), they cause so much ocean mixing that any oil slick on the surface would be driven down into the depths and generally broken up. MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel has tested the phenomenon on a small scale using an enclosed tank, half filled with water, with an air rotor at the top capable of generating hurricane force winds. When the rotor turned at high speeds, the surface of the water was torn apart, and the scientists observed no difference in the amount of evaporation that occurred with or without an oily surface film.
It’s even possible that an oil slick could make a powerful hurricane a little stronger. Oil is darker than water, and so it absorbs more sunlight while also blocking evaporation from the sea surface. That means the spill could be trapping heat in one part of the ocean. If a storm passed over and churned up the surface of the water, that potential hurricane energy might then be released.
You can read the full Slate piece here.
Update 9 ET Saturday: This piece is the second most emailed and third most read item on Slate.com right now. Apparently people want to know….
When Sheril and Chris asked me to contribute to a series of posts on the losses and challenges from the Deep Horizons well disaster, I had a tough time deciding where to go. It would be easy to talk about the alphabet soup of agencies responding to the disaster; to recount how hard it really is to get oil boom deployed, maintained and retrieved. or discuss in great and probably boring detail the ecosystem services and species now imperiled by America’s carbon burning folly. Instead, I offer you this, as my eulogy to yet another wound inflicted upon my home states by all our hubris (Katrina was the most recent prior one – there have been many others).
At 4AM, Baton Rouge LA is a very quiet town. A day-time drive that takes 15 minutes turns into a five minute sprint. Beside a Quonset hut two large dual cab pick-ups are being loaded. The teams work quietly – but as the coffee kicks in the jokes begin to pervade the air. Boxes of nets, cylinders of chemicals, racks of bottles all emerge from their careful storage rooms and are placed in the backs of the trucks.
In a few short minutes the small convoy is on the road, and running down I-10 leaving the “big city” behind. We exit the Interstate at Donaldsonville, and cross the Mississippi River looking down on the Air Liquide compressed gas plant, and Chef John Folse’s then-new restaurant. Soon enough, the sun begins to think about emerging from the horizon, and we’re in the Hardee’s parking lot in Houma, shoving sausage biscuits and coffee throughout the truck cabs.
We continue on down Highway 30, passing through Galiano and Golden Meadow as the sun begins to seriously climb over the marsh. Golden Meadow slows us down. Like many small bayou towns it is renowned for its fishermen and trappers, its oil industry support, and its speeding tickets. Rumor, or rather rural legend, has it that the Commandant of the Louisiana State Police got a ticket there once. Read More