Unclear if tropical storm Alex will hit oiled Gulf

Published 12:52 am Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tropical Storm Alex formed in the western Caribbean on Saturday, and forecasters said it was unclear if it would hit the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said early Saturday that the storm has maximum sustained winds of about 45 mph. Most storm models show Alex traveling over the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico over the weekend, hurricane forecaster Jack Bevens said.

Bevens noted it’s too soon to say with certainty if the storm will pass over the oiled Gulf, though for now it’s not expected to hit the spill. A storm’s predicted track can quickly change as conditions shift.

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A tropical storm warning is in effect for the coast of Belize and the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, which separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico.

Somewhere between 69 million and 132 million gallons of crude have spewed into the water since the rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.

The storm raises concerns over what might happen to efforts to contain the oil if BP is forced to abandon the area for a while. An armada of ships is working in the Gulf.

A cap has been placed over the blown-out undersea well and it is carrying some of the oil to a surface ship where it is being collected. Some of the oil is being brought to the surface and burned. Other ships are drilling two relief wells, projected to be done by August, and are the best hope to stop the leak.

Forecasters have said they can’t speculate about what rough weather would do to oil in the water.

The tropical storm is on track to reach the peninsula by late Saturday. It is about 75 miles east of Belize City and about 100 miles southeast of the Mexican city Chetumal. It was moving toward the west-northwest at about 13 mph.

Meanwhile in the Pacific, two major hurricanes are swirling but don’t pose an immediate threat to land. Darby was a Category 2 storm on Saturday, with maximum sustained winds near 110 mph.

The hurricane is about 310 miles south-southwest of Zihuatanejo, Mexico. It’s heading west near 3 mph.

Hurricane Celia weakened Saturday to a Category 1 storm farther out in the Pacific. Celia’s maximum sustained winds have decreased to 90 mph. It is about 910 miles southwest of the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. The hurricane center says Celia is approaching cooler waters and is expected to continue weakening.