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Gulf oil spill: Will it hit Miami, Fort Lauderdale soon?

Oil is more likely to keep moving east because of the so-called loop current, NOAA officials said in a report issued Friday. The likelihood of the Gulf oil spill soon hitting the Keys and the southeastern coast of Florida is 80 percent, according to the officials.

By Staff writer / July 2, 2010

Gulf oil spill: Oil cleanup workers hired by BP pick up oil on the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala., Friday, July 2, 2010. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon incident is expected to come ashore over the July 4th weekend.

Dave Martin/AP

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It is highly likely that oil moving through the Gulf of Mexico will soon end up affecting the Florida Keys and the Miami and Fort Lauderdale coastlines, say officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

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In a report issued Friday, NOAA officials say that oil is more likely to keep moving east than west to Texas because of the so-called loop current – a fast-moving underwater current from the Caribbean that has the potential to pick up oil from the south end of the slick and rotate it into the direction of the southern Florida coast.

The loop current is pushing oil through the Gulf at a rate approaching 100 miles a day.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

According to NOAA, the underwater oil plume is currently 50 miles from Panama City, Fla., and 271 miles from St. Petersburg. So far, all beaches in the state remain open.

But the Gulf oil spill is already hitting the western Panhandle of Florida in the form of tar balls that line public beaches. Several beaches, including Pensacola Beach, where oil is predicted to wash up this weekend, have issued “oil impact notices” – advisories warning beachcombers and swimmers to avoid contact with the oil.

Although it was earlier predicted that the loop current would push the oil into the Gulf Stream, which would then send it far north along the Atlantic coast, new modeling shows that the chance of this happening is less than 20 percent, according to the NOAA report. The loop current is now expected to move the oil only as far north as North Carolina.

But the likelihood of oil soon hitting the Keys and the southeastern coast of Florida is 80 percent, NOAA officials say.

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