Hurricane season ads pressure to Gulf

A volunteer holds a Northern Gannet bird that was covered in oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster

TEXT OF STORY

Stacey Vanek-Smith: There is new time pressure on the oil clean-up: Hurricane season is around the corner. Nancy Marshall Genzer has more.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: Hurricane season starts June 1. Hurricanes tend to wait until July or August, but there's no guarantee the blown-out oil well a mile under the Gulf will be shut off by then. So what happens when oil and hurricane force winds mix?

Jeff Masters: It's like when you shake up a bottle of vinegar and oil. I mean the oil will mix down in the water for a while, and might be carried inland as well at a reduced concentration because it's going to be well-mixed.

That's Jeff Masters. He's the chief meteorologist for Weather Underground. Masters is trying to be optimistic. He sees our glass of oil and water as half full. There's a theory that water coated with oil could actually help slow down hurricanes. Oily water evaporates slowly. Hurricanes are powered by evaporation.

Kerry Emanuel teaches atmospheric science at MIT. He says the theory holds if the ocean is calm, with low winds.

Kerry Emanuel: But at high wind speeds, whatever you put on the surface tends to get disbursed, and that's why we don't really believe that an oil slick would have much effect on a hurricane.

Plus, huge waves churned up by the hurricane would push the oily water farther inland around the Gulf. But can we at least try to minimize the impact of oil and hurricane force winds? Jeff Masters says no.

Masters: All you can do really is sit back and watch it happen. I don't think you can really plan for it.

I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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