Tropical Storm Earl, forecast to grow into a hurricane, may just graze Mexico’s oil-rich Bay of Campeche as it heads west toward the Honduras Bay Islands before making landfall in Belize within the next 24 hours.
Earl was 265 miles (425 kilometers) east-southeast of Belize City with top winds of 70 miles an hour, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 8 a.m. New York time. Its winds could peak at 80 mph, making it a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale just before striking Belize’s coast early Thursday.
“We do believe it will become a hurricane between midnight and daybreak on Thursday,” said Paul Walker, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.
Forecasts for Earl’s track have drifted south over the past 24 hours, lessening the possibility of a direct hit on Mexico’s Bay of Campeche where state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, has off-shore oil rigs and platforms. More than three-quarters of the crude produced by Pemex comes from the Gulf of Mexico, which includes the bay.
The company, which produced 2.18 million barrels of oil a day during the second quarter, said it’s monitoring Earl’s progress.
After coming ashore in Belize, the forecast calls for Earl to weaken to a tropical depression. Earl could strengthen if it moves back over water in the Bay of Campeche.
“There is a possibility it bulldozes westward into Belize and stays over Mexico,” Walker said. “If this thing can’t get back out over water there is a real question to if it could get back up to tropical storm strength.”
Hurricane warnings were issued for parts of Honduras, Belize and as far north as Puerto Costa Maya in Mexico. Earl is the fifth Atlantic storm to form in 2016.
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