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The oil's impact on developing hurricanes

Andrea Stockton, staff writer

June 10, 2010 — The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season has begun, so what does that mean for the spewing oil in the Gulf of Mexico? In the short video to the left, Ken Graham from the National Weather Service explains how the storm surge is the number one concern.

June 1 marked the official start to the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season. This comes at a time when oil from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico continues to leak. And of course that has many people wondering how hurricanes could affect the current situation. Especially since the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting an active hurricane season.

“We're telling everybody in Louisiana that we've got to be prepared for hurricane season whether there's oil or not,” says Ken Graham from the U.S. National Weather Service.

Most scientists have agreed that the spreading oil slick won't have an affect on the formation of a storm. And that's mostly because of the size of a hurricane. Typically hurricanes span a large area of the ocean (around 400km), which is much wider than the size of the spill. NOAA says as long as the slick is smaller than a normal hurricane, there shouldn't be much of an impact.

The major concern is that a hurricane could turn the litres of floating oil into a crashing black surf. “It's the surge that is concerning. We could get some contaminates from the oil in the water itself being pushed up in the storm surge,” notes Graham. The high winds could carry oil over a wider area, which may help to increase the biodegradation process.

Canadians are also worried about that same storm surge carrying oil into our waters and affecting the fishing community in the Maritimes.

Jack Terhune is a professor of biology at the University of New Brunswick. He says that the chance of the toxic oil making its way to Canada is slim.

“There is a cold water wedge between Atlantic Canada and the Gulf stream. The Labrador current runs south along the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland and Nova Scotia into the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy and that southward flow will serve as a barrier between the oil in the Gulf stream and Atlantic Canada.”

Still, there is some concern about the potential impact on wildlife along the coast.

With the added stress of the on-going spill in the Gulf, this hurricane season will certainly be closely monitored especially since there hasn't been an experience like this before. There has been situations with hurricanes and oil spills in the past, but NOAA says most of the spills occurred because of the storms.

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