Meterologists Predict Strong Storm in US Gulf Next Week

HOUSTON Aug 18, 2006 (Dow Jones Newswires)

Energy prices jumped Friday after meteorologists flagged the possibility of a very strong storm developing in the U.S. Gulf Coast early next week, refocusing attention on the 2006 hurricane season which has proven mild thus far.

Very warm waters in the Gulf, low wind shear and a low pressure disturbance coming up from the Yucatan Peninsula could emerge in the South Central part of the Gulf late Monday and into early Tuesday and develop into a hurricane, said Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist with Planalytics in Philadelphia, Pa.

"It would hit south of New Orleans just south of the (oil and gas) rigs," he said. "What bothers me is that storms that have moved over hot pockets of water have developed into very intense storms. When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita passed over hot waters of Gulf they both became very intense storms."

Rouiller said the stage could be set for the rapid tropical storm development that would go on to threaten central and eastern portions of the Gulf rig system along with Gulf coastal locations from Louisiana eastward to Florida.

The National Hurricane Center wouldn't confirm that any storms in the Gulf Coast were developing but several meteorologists agreed that all the conditions are present for a storm to form.

"The hurricane center won't talk about anything that's not an immediate threat," one meteorologist said. "But we see a pattern evolving."

The energy markets pay close attention to weather forecasts that threaten the oil and gas industry along the Gulf of Mexico. So far this summer, a major storm or hurricane premium has failed to emerge, part of the reasons that gasoline and crude futures have been falling.

Prices rebounded on Friday afternoon however, after the storm warnings emerged.

Weather forecasters have downgraded their hurricane expectations for 2006 from earlier in the year, though the season is still expected to pack considerable punch.

In its recent updated forecast, the widely watched Colorado State University team said it now expects 15 tropical storms this season, with seven becoming hurricanes and three becoming intense hurricanes of Category 3 or above. In May, they predicted 17 named storms, nine hurricanes and five intense hurricanes.

Copyright (c) 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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