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Art Horn

Art Horn

Art is a contributor to Energy Tribune

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The First OilCane? What Happens if a Hurricane Rides over the Oil Spill

The gulf oil spill is bad but it could become much, much worse and soon. The threat is a hurricane moving over the spill. If a hurricane’s violent winds track over the spill, we could witness a natural and economic calamity that history has never recorded anywhere or anytime. We will literally be in oil-soaked waters. We will have witnessed the first oilicane.

A category one hurricane (on a scale of 1 to 5) has maximum sustained winds of 74 to 95 miles per hour near the eye. A category five hurricane has maximum sustained winds of 156 to 200 miles per hour. The difference between the two storms is gigantic and non-linear. The latter hurricane may cause 250 times more damage than the former.

Water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean are now running as warm or warmer than they did during the record setting season of 2005. This is significant. Warmer water means more heat and humidity over the tropical ocean to fuel hurricanes. Just as a car needs gasoline to fuel its engine, a hurricane needs hot, humid air because a hurricane is little more than a gigantic atmospheric engine. The warmer and more humid the air it breaths in, the faster its pistons pump and the stronger its winds become. The warmer water not only makes more hurricanes, it make more big ones. The 2005 season had a record 15 hurricanes. Nobody knows how many there will be this season. But it appears that it could be a big year.

Oil continues to gush out of the bottom of the gulf. Some progress has been made to reduce the amount escaping. Oil is washing up on shores and efforts are being made to clean it up. The good news is that most of the crude oil is confined to coastal areas. The bad news could come if a moderate to large hurricane rides over the spill.

The winds of a hurricane are so strong that the normal interface between ocean and atmosphere disappears. The winds begin to generate large waves. Spray is blown off the top of the waves. That spray mixes with the air so that after a short time there is no real boundary between what is ocean and what is the atmosphere. If a large hurricane moves over the spill, this chaotic mixture of water and air will inevitably also contain oil. The oil will become airborne and travel with the hurricane.

When hurricanes make landfall the winds push the ocean onto the land in what is called a storm surge. The height of the surge on land is dependent on several factors. The strength of the wind and the rate of forward motion of the storm is critical as to how much water is forced up onto the land. The diameter of the hurricane will also determine how much water is blown inland. The wider the storm the more water is pushed in and over a greater area. If the water is shallow offshore, the surge will be deeper on land. Naturally, the elevation of the land is important as well. The water off the gulf coast is shallow. The elevation inland is only a few feet. This area is prime territory for devastating and deeply penetrating storm surges.

Should a major hurricane push the spill towards the gulf coast there will be nothing that can be done to stop it. No amount of planning or engineering will help. No number of visits to the gulf by the president or any other official will stop the inevitable. The storm surge will drive the water and the oil miles inland. Everything in its path will be coated in a greasy bath of crude. Even the wind may have oil in it. In New England, I have seen hurricanes and tropical storms that have blown salt spray many miles inland from the coast. The leaves of the trees eventually turn brown and fall off. In the case of the gulf it will be oil that will spray the trees, buildings and everything else in the way. How far inland this oily mess will blow is anyone’s guess but it will be unprecedented in its economic and environmental damage.

The recovery period after a hurricane can take years. It was 10 years until some communities fully recovered from Hurricane Andrew in South Florida, some never recovered at all. The New Orleans area is still putting itself back together after Katrina in 2005. The recovery period after an oil-soaked hurricane -- or what could be called an Oilicane – is impossible to forecast but it could take years and many billions of dollars. One wonders if BP has the money to survive such a unique disaster. The human and natural losses from such an event could be historic.


By. Art Horn

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  • Anonymous on June 24 2010 said:
    This is a desperate situation which the public is largely ignorant or indifferent to, aided in great deal by the willful media blackout from the mainstream and the politicizing of the mega-disaster. I'm no scientist, but it's pretty clear any tropical system coming from the Gulf onshore will be drawing up the Gulf's moisture, oil and million + gallons TOXIC DISPERSANT and dump this lethal Corexit rain for HUNDREDS of miles inland, contaminating drinking water supplies and the food chain in general. Will the MSM black this out too if/when it happens?
  • Anonymous on June 24 2010 said:
    The question is not "how much would an Oilcane cost to rebuild?" The questions are: -Why would anybody even WANT to rebuild from what may rank as one of the top 3 environmental disaters in human history (along with Chernobyl and Bhopal)?-How large of an area along the Gulf Coast will (need to) be abandoned?-How many long term chronic illnesses and deaths will result beyond the immediately affected areas?-Will Florida experience an economically crippling mass exodus and will the Tampa Bay area resemble Detroit in 10 years?-Will the American public finally wake up and make one last gasp effort to save any remaining vestiges of liberty? -Will this oil spi...errr, gusher be stopped in the next 5 years? 10 years from now? In our lifetimes? Ever?!?!
  • Anonymous on June 24 2010 said:
    IXOTC 1 was a bigger spill than Horizon. A hurricane hit about 2 years later and HELPED clean up the spill ! Dave
  • Anonymous on June 25 2010 said:
    Dave, I can see where if the spill has been stopped and already partially dispersed, a hurricane two years later might actually help by widely dispersing the remaining oil. I think in the case of the BP leak, however, a strong hurricane this summer would be very bad.
  • Anonymous on June 25 2010 said:
    I know how to reduce our dependence on foreign oil - all the libtards should set a good example and get rid of their cars, stop using plastics and cosmetics, and otherwise stop being hypocrites.
  • Anonymous on June 25 2010 said:
    [quote name="Vic"]I know how to reduce our dependence on foreign oil - all the libtards should set a good example and get rid of their cars, stop using plastics and cosmetics, and otherwise stop being hypocrites.[/quote]Here's another thought: Let's terminate western civilization and its omnicidal apex, the industrial economy. That'll ensure everybody stops driving cars, using fossil fuels for heating and cooling, buying from the grocery stores (which will be empty), and using water from the municipal taps.Looks like we're headed that way. But it might save the living planet, including our own species, if we hurry along the ongoing economic collapse.
  • Anonymous on June 26 2010 said:
    Click my name, please. I wrote about this today.We have seen the combination of a massive oil slick and tropical cyclones before. The 1979 Ixtoc spill was worse that the Deepwater Horizon and three storms blew through the slick it created. Hurricane Bob, Tropical Storm Elena and Hurricane Frederic.
  • Anonymous on June 28 2010 said:
    Then when aerosilation of the oil takes place in an oil enriched atmosphere with 5000 degree lightning bolts running thru it. hmmmm? Just speculation of course. If I were a scientist I could call it a theory / educated guess. The question remains, what percentage of oil does it take to contaminate a freshwater system? lake ? river ? I may be wrong ( I hope I am ) but I believe it is a relatively miniscule amount. If that is the case, every open air fresh water system , not to mention all exposed agriculture will be contaminated within a few hours. Not just Louisiana.

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