A tropical depression that could grow into a hurricane is forecast to strike the US Gulf Coast late Sunday, potentially shutting down offshore oil and natural gas rigs and dealing another blow to citrus growers.
The system off the Nicaraguan coast is expected to strengthen into a tropical storm later Wednesday and reach hurricane strength with winds of 85 miles (137 kilometers) per hour Sunday as it nears the coastline between Louisiana and Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Storm warnings have been issued for Honduras and Nicaragua.
Thirteen storms have formed across the Atlantic so far this season, killing hundreds of people in the US, Mexico and the Caribbean and causing an estimated $300 billion in damage. In August, Hurricane Harvey temporarily shut down about 25% of oil and natural gas production in the Gulf and as much as 20% of U.S. refining capacity. A few weeks later, Hurricane Irma devastated Florida citrus groves.
The storm “could affect portions of the northern Gulf Coast as a hurricane this weekend, with direct impacts from wind, storm surge, and heavy rainfall,” Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at the center, wrote in a forecast analysis. “Residents along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida should monitor the progress of this system for the next several days.”
Orange juice futures rose as much as 2.6% to $1.5940 a pound on ICE Futures U.S. in New York. Florida is the world’s second-largest orange juice producer.
‘Plenty of Damage’
“There’s been already plenty of damage; having another storm, even if it’s a Category 1, is not going to help the crop,” Jack Scoville, vice president for Price Futures Group in Chicago, said in telephone interview. “People are kind of jumpy.”
The system “definitely” poses a risk to U.S. cotton areas as well, particularly western portions of the southeast, including Alabama and Georgia, Donald Keeney, meteorologist with MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland, said in a telephone interview. Georgia is the second-largest cotton grower after Texas.
Cotton futures rose as much as 3.6% in New York.
As it nears the U.S. coastline the storm, which would be named Nate, could strengthen to a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, the hurricane center said. There’s even a chance it could be a Category 2 storm if it passes over a patch of particularly warm water in Gulf of Mexico called the Loop Current, said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“If it goes over the Loop eddy that would give it a lot of fuel for intensification,” Masters said.
In addition, how the storm interacts with the Yucatan Peninsula will also have a big impact on its ultimate strength, said Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist at The Weather Company in Andover, Massachusetts.
“If the storm shoots the gap between the Yucatan and Cuba, there will be limited weakening due to land interaction before the storm emerges into the Gulf,” Crawford said. “This would increase the chances of rapid intensification and would be a more dire situation for the eastern Gulf Coast.”
There’s about a 30% chance it will disrupt US offshore energy operations, as companies may evacuate some personnel, said Matt Rogers, president of the Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.
Offshore rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico account for about 17% of U.S. crude oil output and 4.1% of gas production. About 45% of petroleum refining capacity and 51% of gas processing is along the coastline.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc is minimizing staff in the eastern Gulf and taking steps to secure facilities, the company said in a statement. BP Plc is evacuating nonessential staff from its Thunder Horse and Na Kika crude and gas production platforms.
The storm will bring as much as 20 inches (51 centimeters) of rain to Nicaragua, with some areas getting as much as 30 inches, and lesser amounts to Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras. The heavy rain could cause life-threatening mudslides throughout the region.
Its location in the western Caribbean means it can draw moisture from both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, which will make the flooding worse, Masters said.
The good news is that the storm should be falling apart by late Sunday, “so it will be short-lived,” Rogers said.
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