But the Gulf oil spill is already hitting the western Panhandle of Florida in the form of tar balls that line public beaches. Several beaches, including Pensacola Beach, where oil is predicted to wash up this weekend, have issued “oil impact notices” – advisories warning beachcombers and swimmers to avoid contact with the oil.
Although it was earlier predicted that the loop current would push the oil into the Gulf Stream, which would then send it far north along the Atlantic coast, new modeling shows that the chance of this happening is less than 20 percent, according to the NOAA report. The loop current is now expected to move the oil only as far north as North Carolina.
But the likelihood of oil soon hitting the Keys and the southeastern coast of Florida is 80 percent, NOAA officials say.
Oil reaching south Florida would have traveled about 600 miles, the longest distance that oil would have traveled from the undersea wellhead that erupted more than two months ago off the Louisiana coast. Floridians should expect oil on their shores in the form of brown pancakes or tar balls, NOAA scientists say.
The modeling used to make these predictions factors in how fast the oil is pouring out of the wellhead (up to 60,000 barrels per day, or 2.5 million gallons), minus how much oil is being skimmed, burned, or collected at the surface. The model also accounts for how much oil has weathered on the surface, because of either natural degradation or the use of dispersants.