Hurricane season begins June 1. Though you may think I’m getting ahead of myself, I assure you that oil and gas interests in the Gulf of Mexico are well into preparations for the upcoming season.
My grandmother use to say, “You can’t trust those hurricanes.” Though she was stating the obvious, her advice was based on experience, not the technological know-how that is applied today. And yet, predicting hurricanes — how many, when and where they will occur — is anything but an exact science.
Philip Klotzbach and William Gray of Colorado State University, the go-to team when it comes to Atlantic basin hurricane predictions, are forecasting a below average season in 2014. They predict nine named storms, three hurricanes and one major storm. The average is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major storms.
The National Weather Service is also predicting a below average season for a number of reasons including lower than average water temperatures in the Gulf. The warmer the water temperature, the better the chance of storm development, the NWS’s Kenneth Graham said at the Offshore Marine Service Association’s quarterly meeting held in New Orleans earlier this month. “There’s also the chance of an El Nino forming in the Pacific, but we don’t know about that yet,” he said. (El Nino events create strong westerly winds aloft, shearing off the tops of storms trying to form in the Gulf before they can complete a closed circulation.)
What we hear about most are hurricanes that make landfall. But for the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s about storms that threaten offshore structures out in open water. Preliminary shutdown operations can begin when a storm is more than 200 miles away, depending on the predicted tract.
A worst-case scenario is shutting down a rig that is in a storm’s path. The structure has to be secured and personnel moved to safety. Depending on where the rig is located, this can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Storm surge refers to the amount of water that builds up in front of a storm as it moves across the water. Again, storm surge is usually associated with how much water is pushed ashore as the storm makes landfall. However, the surge also pushes against offshore structures as the storm goes by.
Beginning in 2015, Graham said the NWS will add a new category to tropical storms and hurricanes in addition to the Saffir-Simpson category 1-5 wind scale. The new scale will measure storm surge. So, for example, a Category 1 storm could carry with it a Category 3 storm surge.
Graham cautioned those with interests in the Gulf not to let their guard down because some of the worst hurricanes on record occurred during below average hurricane seasons.
Remember what grandma said.