Tropical Storm Debby churned over the northern Gulf of Mexico early yesterday, interfering with oil and gas production and putting officials on alert for flooding and strong winds from Texas to Florida.
At least one tornado linked to the storm touched down on Saturday in southwest Florida, but no injuries were reported.
At 5am yesterday, Debby was about 265km south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with maximum sustained winds of 85kph, the US National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Debby was moving toward the north at 6kph. The center of Debby was expected to linger in the Gulf over the next few days with no landfall in the immediate forecast.
Debby forced the suspension of 8 percent of the region’s oil and gas production.
The US government reported that nine production platforms and one drilling rig were evacuated. The suspended crude production amounts to about 2 percent of US production and about 0.1 percent of global production. The reduced production is not expected to impact oil prices unless the storm strengthens and forces more production platforms to close.
Out in the Gulf, Anadarko Petroleum removed all non-essential personnel and expected to close four facilities in the central and eastern Gulf. Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and Marathon Oil said non-essential personnel were being removed, but production was not being affected. ExxonMobil reported that its operations were unaffected. A tropical storm warning was issued for part of the southeast Louisiana coast. Officials there have been monitoring the weather closely for the last several days. Some low-lying areas close to the coast flood easily in rough weather.
“We’ve already seen higher tides than usual,” said Angela Rains, manager of the Terrebonne Levee District.
Near the mouth of the Mississippi southeast of New Orleans, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said officials were making preparations to protect the main highway from tidal flooding.
A tornado touched down in Collier County in southwest Florida and forecasters warned other twisters were possible. Several homes were damaged and tree limbs were down, the Naples Daily News reported.
“This is quite common with this type of storm,” senior hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart with the National Hurricane Center said of the twisters. “They tend to not be very large or long-lived, which can be difficult to detect on radar. So people need to keep an eye on the sky.”
Some strengthening is expected and Debby could be near hurricane force winds by tonight. Forecasters warned of up to 15.24cm of rain along the coast, with isolated amounts of 25.4cm.
Alberto was the first storm this year. It formed off the South Carolina coast on May 19, almost two weeks before the hurricane season officially began June 1.
It was the first time four tropical storms have been recorded before July 1 during the Atlantic hurricane season since record keeping began in 1851.