Hurricane Alex, first of 2010 season, heads for Texas, Mexico
Hurricane Alex, after slamming Belize as a tropical storm Thursday, was declared a hurricane Tuesday evening. New extended hurricane warning rules are meant to give more precise, earlier warnings.
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The National Hurricane Center in Miami has posted hurricane warnings for a swath of the western Gulf coast from La Cruz, Mexico to near Texas's Baffin Bay. Tropical storm warnings extend farther along the Texas coast to Port O'Conner.
Forecasters say they anticipate a three- to five-foot storm surge north of where the eye makes landfall. The surge is expected to be capable of driving several miles inland before dissipating. Rainfall amounts are expected to range from six to 12 inches, with some isolated locations recording 20 inches of rain before the storm passes.
The storm struck Belize June 24 as tropical storm Alex, then weakened as it passed over Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and into the western Gulf of Mexico. Heavy rains fell on the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as on Guatemala and El Salvador.
In addition to people in the warning area, Alex has grabbed the attention of officials running efforts to control and clean up oil from the Deepwater Horizon blow-out, now beginning its 11th week. The storm itself does not directly threaten these efforts. But by some estimates, waves it generates could top 12 feet at the recovery site. Rough seas and high winds halted oil skimming efforts in the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday. Heavy seas could also break up patches of oil on the surface, and could drive oil higher onto beaches and deeper into wetlands unprotected by barrier islands.
"We have not seen any oil being pushed much further inland," said US Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who heads the clean-up effort, during a briefing on Monday. "We have seen the oil change direction. It was generally heading east to the panhandle of Florida. Because of wave conditions and current we now see oil start entering Mississippi sound and areas around Chandelier and Breton Sound. We're very concerned about that. We're moving forces there as we speak."
The biggest concern comes from the prospect of a more-direct hit from a storm. Its surge "would, obviously, exacerbate the oil, move it further into marshes, and would cause problems for us," Admiral Allen said. "So we're going to face that potential throughout the hurricane season should we have any kind of heavy weather."
The Atlantic hurricane season's peak comes during the months of August, September, and October. Alex is the first June Atlantic hurricane since 1995, according to the National Hurricane Center.