Hurricane season combined with Gulf oil spill could wreak havoc
This year's hurricane season is particularly worrisome because it's predicted to be active, compounding clean-up efforts for the BP oil spill in the Gulf.
Tue, Jun 01, 2010 at 09:54 AM
DANGER ZONE: Satellite imagery of Hurricane Rita in 2005. (Photo: Alpoma/Flickr)
Hurricane season officially commences today, and this year's season is predicted to be very active. Conditions are ripe for an unusually destructive hurricane season, which could disrupt efforts to clean up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Hurricanes are nature’s fiercest storms. They are huge heat pumps, equivalent to 500,000 atom bombs of power. When Bikini Island was demolished by a thermonuclear bomb test in 1954, the explosion lifted 5.5 million tons of water.
That same year, Hurricane Hazel over Puerto Rico drenched the island in 1.4 billion tons of water. In 1969, Hurricane Camille dumped so much rain with such ferocity that it filled the overhead nostrils of birds and drowned them in trees.
Hurricanes draw all their energy from warm water. What makes this a particularly worrisome season is that the Gulf of Mexico is about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal. As a matter of fact, it is even warmer than the Gulf was in 2005 — the year of Hurricane Katrina.
This year predictions are between 14 and 23 tropical storms, seven of hurricane strengths and two or three will be major hurricanes. Scientists say there will be a 69 percent chance that at least one major hurricane will make landfall on the U.S. and a 44 percent chance that a major hurricane will hit the Gulf Coast.
A combination of high winds and a storm surge associated with a hurricane would be disastrous to the wetlands, mangroves and bald cypress ecosystems along Louisiana and all Gulf states. A hurricane has the potential to drive the oil deeper into estuaries and wetlands and sullying thousands of miles of coastline with gooey, toxic oil.
If plants that hold the marshes together, like marsh cane, die at the roots, the soil will wash away, leaving deeper water and less of a buffer for protection against future hurricanes. If plant roots were to survive, the marsh cane could come back over time — if not the results will be catastrophic for the wetlands ecosystem.
Other predictions resulting from the hurricanes on the oil spill include pushing some of the massive slicks into the Loop Current, the conveyor belt that leads to the Straits of Florida — the third largest coral reef area on the planet — and then to the Atlantic Ocean and Western Europe.
BP's most recent attempt failed to stop oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes will be devastating to the already fragile, oil-stained marine ecosystem.