Tropical storm hovers south of US coast


HOUSTON – Strong winds and heavy rain from Tropical Storm Debby reached the US Gulf Coast yesterday as the storm meandered on an uncertain track towards the Louisiana coast with 60mph (95kph) winds, the US National Hurricane Service said.

Debby, the first named storm of 2012 to enter the Gulf of Mexico, was centred about 200 miles (325km) east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River and was moving slowly northeast at around 5 mph (7 kph) at 1pm local time (1800 GMT).

The storm was expected to strengthen into a hurricane by tomorrow night, the Miami-based centre said.

The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) predicted that Debby would turn west and come ashore on the eastern Louisiana coast early Thursday as a weak Category One hurricane. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm, warning of possible inland flooding in some coastal parishes.

Other forecast models were skewed on Debby’s ultimate destination, with some showing landfall in Florida and others predicting the Texas coast.

Debby should remain nearly stationary for the next 12-24 hours. “The track beyond that time is highly uncertain” due to divergent models, the NHC said.

The storm has already disrupted nearly a quarter of Gulf offshore oil and natural gas production as big offshore operators like BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell evacuated workers from offshore platforms in its path.

That number could climb in coming days, with Debby expected to enter some of the most prolific production areas of the Gulf, home to 20 per cent of US oil production and 6 per cent of natural gas output.

A tropical storm warning was issued for the Louisiana coast from the Pearl River west to Morgan City, excluding New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain.

Residents were warned to expect storm conditions within 36 hours. “Tropical storm conditions are already near or over portions of the northeast Gulf Coast and are expected to reach the remainder of the warning area tonight,” the forecasters warned.

The NHC extended the storm warning east to the Mississippi-Alabama border and along Florida’s northwest coast to the Suwannee River. – (Reuters)