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Relationship Between Hurricanes and the Oil Spill

As millions along the coast prepare for what is predicted to be an extremely active hurricane season, they are also faced with reality of a growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. While the oil slick is not likely to have a significant impact on a hurricane’s actual development, it is important to understand how the two may affect each other.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), most hurricanes span 200-300 miles, which is far wider than the current size of the spill. If the slick remains small in comparison to a typical hurricane’s general environment and size, the anticipated impact on the hurricane would be minimal.

The oil slick is not expected to appreciably affect either the intensity or the track of a fully developed tropical storm or hurricane. The oil slick would have little effect on the storm surge or near-shore wave heights.

A hurricane’s impact on an oil slick has the potential to be greater. The high winds may distribute oil over a wider area, but it is difficult to model exactly where the oil may be transported. In very general terms, a hurricane passing to the west of the oil slick could drive oil to the coast, whereas a hurricane passing to the east of the slick could drive the oil away from the coast.

The full report from NOAA is available online.

Get more information on how to prepare for the 2010 hurricane season.