Tropical Storm Nate Hits Rigs as Katia, Maria Churn in Atlantic

Thursday, 08 Sep 2011 03:37 PM

Tropical Storm Nate strengthened as it whips oil rigs in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche, prompting alerts along the Yucatan coast, while Tropical Storm Maria and Hurricane Katia weakened as they bring rain and high winds to islands in the Atlantic.

Nate has almost stopped moving and is lashing Petroleos Mexicanos rigs with winds of 60 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. The track the storm will take remains in question, and a reconnaissance plane is heading for Nate to take measurements that may help determine its course through the Gulf of Mexico.

“It is a very uncertain situation right now,” said Tom Downs, a meteorologist with Weather 2000 Inc. in New York. “The computer model runs are bouncing all over the place.”

The latest hurricane center track takes Nate on a northwesterly course toward the Texas-Mexico border.

The Gulf is home to 27 percent of U.S. oil output and 6.5 percent of natural gas production. About 14.8 percent of the oil and 6.8 percent of gas output are shut, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said today. Tropical Storm Lee passed through the Gulf last week.

Nate is 125 miles west of Campeche, Mexico, and is moving southeast at 1 mph, according to a hurricane center advisory at 2 p.m. Eastern time.

Two of the major forecasting models used by meteorologists showed different tracks for the storm, said Travis Hartman, a meteorologist with MDA EarthSat Weather in Gaithersburg, Md.

One model took Nate into the oil and gas producing regions, causing a reaction in energy markets, he said. The other showed the storm heading into Mexico.

“We don’t have any sort of agreement that is going to make us feel comfortable,” Hartman said by telephone. “It still bears watching.”

Downs said the exact track Nate takes may also influence its strength.

“Texas is pretty much like a desert right now,” he said. “The northwestern Gulf of Mexico is dry, and it would be choked off. Basically, you have a stronger storm if it stays farther to the south and a weaker storm that moves farther north.”

Farther to the east, Tropical Storm Maria prompted storm watches throughout the Lesser Antilles, including Antigua, Saint Kitts and Martinique, according to the hurricane center. A storm watch means winds of at least 39 mph, along with heavy rain, may occur within two days.

The center warned residents of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to watch out for Maria. The storm is less organized, and there’s a chance Maria may break up into what is called a tropical wave, which means it won’t have the cohesion of a tropical system and instead will be a mass of thunderstorms, according to a hurricane center forecast analysis.

Maria was 605 miles east of the Windward Islands with 40 mph winds, down from 45 mph earlier today, and moving west at 22 mph, according to the center.

Hurricane Katia is still bringing rain to Bermuda and heavy crashing surf to the island as well as the U.S. East Coast, the hurricane center said.

Katia is 330 miles west-northwest of Bermuda with top winds of 85 mph, down from 90 mph, and is moving north at 16 mph. The storm is expected to move northeast into the Atlantic through the remainder of the week. Katia is a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

“The forecast takes the remnants of Katia north of the British Isles in about four days,” according to the hurricane center. “Katia will remain a powerful cyclone.”

The hurricane center forecast calls for the storm to have 60 mph winds in five days.

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