Oil spill may affect hurricanes that enter Gulf

May 20, 2010 5:23:35 PM PDT
With all this oil still flowing into the Gulf, we wanted to know what would happen if a hurricane hit the Gulf and made contact with the oil spill. It's a real concern for some.

Experts know the eastern Gulf, where this massive pipe leak is, is a pretty common place for hurricanes.

"It is the most common part of the Gulf to experience a hurricane," Texas A&M Meteorology professor John Neilsen Gammon said.

Hurricane Katrina filled the Gulf with clouds and wind and rain. But its track drove the worst of the hurricane right through what is the bulls eye of today's relatively compact oil spill.

"When Katrina came through, for instance, the trajectory was basically up through here," said Dr. Piers Chapman Texas A&M Oceanography Department, "So the oil would be pushed farther inland here."

If the same thing happened today, the cleanup process would come to a virtual halt.

BP's employed a small armada of ships and rigs to clean up, process and seal the leak.

But as soon as a hurricane enters the Gulf, all those people would have to leave and head inland. That could slow down the cleanup.

But is there a chance the oil could slow a hurricane down too?

Scientists have speculated for years about spreading something oily on the water ahead of a storm .

But it's not likely to work.

"Oil would not have very much of an effect at all," Chapman said.

"For a slick to have a large impact, it would have to cover a large area," Gammon said.

"There's a much bigger effect is the hurricane on the oil," Chapman added.

There's actually some science that suggests it could do some good.

"The hurricane acts like a blender on the surface of the sea," Chapman said. "The power in the waves would smash the oil into smaller and smaller bits."

And that could help it evaporate.

But Gammon said, "It will be a major factor in transporting the oil. The winds will redistribute the oil over a larger area than we've seen and with the storm surge, some oil will come inland very quickly."

In Katrina and Hurricane Rita oil from broken pipelines and flooded refineries polluted coastal areas and that may be the biggest threat.

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