Alex has intensified to become the first hurricane of the 2010 season, making it the first June hurricane in the Atlantic since 1995. The storm is located approximately 175 miles (280 kilometers) east of La Pesca in Mexico and packs sustained winds of around 80 mph (130 kmph), according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Alex is traveling in a west-northwest direction and a slow west to west-northwest motion is expected over the next 24 to 48 hours. On this forecast track, Alex will approach the coast of northern Mexico and southern Texas later today and make landfall south of the Texas/Mexico border early on July 1 UTC. The NHC said Alex is expected to strengthen over the next 24 hours and could become a category 2 hurricane prior to landfall. The NHC said hurricane-force winds extend 25 miles (35 kilometers) from the center of the storm while tropical storm-force winds extend 200 miles (235 kilometers).
Although Alex’s predicted landfall point has shifted south since yesterday, and the probability of Texas being directly hit has reduced, a hurricane warning remains in effect for the coast of Texas south of Baffin Bay to the mouth of the Rio Grande. A hurricane warning for the coast of Mexico from the mouth of the Rio Grande to La Cruz also remains in place. Tropical storm warnings have also been issued for parts of the Texas and Mexico coast. The NHC said Alex could produce 6 to 12 inches (150 to 300 millimeters) of rain over parts of northeastern Mexico and southern Texas, with up to 20 inches (510 millimeters) possible in isolated areas. The NHC said the heavy rain could cause life threatening flash floods and mudslides and warned tornadoes could spawn over parts of southern Texas today.
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Storm surge warnings have also been issued by the NHC, with waves up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) above ground level expected along the immediate coast near and to the north of where the center of the storm makes landfall. The NHC said the surge could penetrate several miles inland. Forecasters said Alex looks set to avoid the BP oil spill off the Louisiana coast but could still generate waves as high as 12 feet (4 meters) in the region. BP has consequently announced that plans to increase the amount of oil being captured from the well could be delayed by up to a week. Controlled burns of crude on the surface, flights spraying dispersant chemicals and booming operations have also been halted, officials said.
On its current path, Alex is projected to make its second landfall south of the Texas/Mexico border at around 06:00 UTC on July 1. The latest NHC forecast says Alex could reach category 2 status before making landfall with sustained winds of around 100 mph (160 kmph). Although there is still some uncertainty in both the forecast track and intensity, the NHC said Alex now looks set to make landfall south of Matamoros in Mexico and Brownsville in Texas. However, forecasters said Alex could still come ashore close to the Texas/Mexico border and warned towns and cities in southern Texas could still be hit by hurricane or tropical storm-force winds.
In response, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Texas late on June 29. Texas Governor Rick Perry issued his own state disaster proclamation for 19 counties, allowing Texas to launch preparations such as pre-deploying resources to ensure local communities are ready to respond to the hurricane. Officials in Brownsville said they are preparing to distribute 60,000 sandbags and provide shelter for roughly 2,000 families. Mexican authorities took similar measures and reported one storm-related death in Tamaulipas state. Officials in Matamoros said they would begin evacuating about 2,500 people from coastal areas east of the city this morning.
Offshore, Alex is forecast to miss much of the major oil drilling sites in the Gulf of Mexico. However, Shell Oil and Marathon Oil said production has been shutdown at some of their platforms near Alex’s forecast path. Shell, Marathon, Exxon Mobil, Anadarko Petroleum and Apache have also evacuated non-essential workers from platforms and rigs in the region. U.S. officials said about 25 percent of oil production and 9.4 percent of natural gas output in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut. The Mexican ports of Dos Bocas and Cayo Arcas, which handle 80 percent of all the country’s export shipping in the Gulf of Mexico, were also closed due to bad weather and strong surf in the area.
Sources: National Hurricane Center, WSI, Associated Press, Reuters News, Agence France Presse
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