STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — AccuWeather.com — Tropical activity over the Gulf oil spill is possible this weekend as AccuWeather.com meteorologists monitor a tropical wave located near Hispaniola.
According to meteorologists, the likely path of tropical activity will be across southern Florida early this weekend. In this scenario, the tropical disturbance will enter the eastern Gulf as a weaker system by Saturday, bringing enhanced thunderstorms across the spill area.
Choppy seas and gusty winds on Saturday and Sunday could send skimming vessels to port, delay coastal cleanup operations and render containment and absorption boom useless.
Unsettled seas can work to break up the oil slick into smaller pieces, while also working to speed up the weathering process of the oil into tar balls.
Strong, prevailing winds from the south accompanying a tropical storm or strong system of thunderstorms can keep oil contained toward the coasts and push pieces of the oil slick even further into the marshes and beaches.
Generally, the motion of a tropical system generates a current that will act in keeping the spill confined to the Gulf.
If the tropical system were to strengthen into a tropical depression or tropical storm later this week, meteorologists predict the effects on the spill to be less than Hurricane Alex, which moved through the southern Gulf in later June.
However, because the track of the storm is still not set in stone, there is a small chance the wave could take a more westward track through the open waters between Florida and Cuba.
The open waters of the southern Gulf are deep and warm, which is favorable for the strengthening of tropical activity.
It is not out of the question for this storm to form into a hurricane if it makes a turn to the west and avoids interaction with land.
A hurricane entering the Gulf will increase the impacts on oil spill cleanup operations. Skimming vessels could be sent to port for several days and more complex containment efforts over the ruptured well could be suspended.
Unsettled conditions and gusty winds could wash oil even farther into fragile wetlands and coastal areas.
Current Conditions over the Spill
On Wednesday, the weather will worsen slightly with wave heights increasing to 3-4 feet and winds gusting from the southeast at 10-20 mph.
Wave heights over the spill site have the potential to build to more than 5 feet throughout the day and winds could gust as high as 25 mph as storms move through the area. Waves will be smaller along the coast.
Temperatures will continue to be hot, with highs rising into the 90s each day before cooling into the 70s overnight.
According to AccuWeather.com meteorologists, another calm period will begin on Thursday before tropical activity from the wave over Hispaniola begins early in the weekend.
By Carly Porter, Writer for AccuWeather.com