Tropical Storm Bonnie barreled toward south Florida Friday on a track that was expected to take it over the site of BP Plc’s massive oil spill in the energy-rich Gulf of Mexico by Saturday afternoon.
The fast-moving storm was due to make landfall over the northern Florida Keys by midday before cutting across the peninsula and swirling into the Gulf sometime early Friday evening, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Two rigs that had been drilling relief wells at BP’s oil leak site were preparing to move out of Bonnie’s path on Friday, a spokesman for the rig operator said.
There were no immediate reports of oil and gas production production being shut, however some companies began evacuating offshore workers.
The Gulf of Mexico is home to about 30 percent of U.S. oil production, 11 percent of natural gas production, and more than 43 percent of U.S. refinery capacity.
With moderate rains and top sustained winds of about 40 miles per hour, Bonnie threatened localized flooding in some parts of Florida but no significant damage or storm surge, Dave Roberts, a forecaster at the Miami-based hurricane center said.
He said some intensification was possible, as Bonnie moved out over the Gulf and took aim at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site.
But the storm was moving too fast to strengthen much before its expected landfall anywhere between the Louisiana coast and Florida’s northwest Panhandle early on Sunday morning.
“Right now we’ve got it between 17 and 20 knots. With that speed it would be pretty tough to really deepen rapidly,” said Roberts, who added that Bonnie was not expected to become a hurricane.
“We’re just looking for some gradual intensification once it moves back over the Gulf,” he said.
Bonnie is the second named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which began on June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
Forecasters say this year’s hurricane season is expected to be especially active.
(Reporting by Tom Brown, Editing by Jackie Frank)
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