Coast Guard officials are preparing for the possibility that they’ll need to temporarily shut down efforts to deal with the Gulf oil spill as a low-pressure system develops in the western Caribbean.
A US Air Force plane was conducting a reconnaissance mission Friday to determine the strength of the storm, according to the National Hurricane Center. Already, the hurricane center has predicted that the low-pressure system has an 80 percent chance of becoming a hurricane in the next 48 hours as it moves toward the Yucatán Peninsula and into the Gulf of Mexico.
In a media briefing with reporters Friday morning, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said he will suspend recovery efforts if winds reach a gale force of 40 knots or greater (46 miles an hour or more) and the storm is judged to be at least 120 hours away from hitting the base of operations at the well.
Being one step ahead of the storm before it gathers strength is now a top priority of recovery operations.
“We’re not even waiting because you don’t know,” Allen said. “It could move into a [Category] 2 or 3 or 4 hurricane before it gets here.” Despite the pressure to collect oil, which is gushing up to 60,000 barrels (or 2.5 million gallons) a day, Allen said, “whatever the flow rate is now ... it will be unattended.”
A hurricane of any strength could wreak havoc on the fleet of 6,300 vessels that took two months to assemble to mitigate the oil spill.