Depression Likely to Become Hurricane Next Week -Planalytics

NEW YORK Aug 25, 2006 (Dow Jones Newswires)

The fifth tropical depression of the 2006 Atlantic storm season likely will become a hurricane as it moves into the U.S. Gulf of Mexico early next week, a private weather forecaster said Friday.

"A strong consensus from hurricane tracking models indicate this storm will become a hurricane as it moves into the Gulf early next week and could threaten the Gulf production and rig infrastructure during the later half of next week," Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics, said in a note.

The National Hurricane Center or NHC, declared Tropical Depression No. 5 on Thursday in what to date has been an average hurricane season. The consequences of last year's hurricanes Katrina and Rita continue to reverberate throughout the U.S. energy industry, with some crude oil and natural gas production volumes in the Gulf still off line.

Storm worries supported energy futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange in early Friday trading. The front-month crude oil contract was about $1 higher at $73.43 a barrel, while natural gas was 34 cents higher at $7.42 a million British thermal units.

The depression is moving over the eastern Caribbean toward the west at about 20 miles per hour. If it continues along a path with favorable sea surface temperatures and little upper-level wind shear, the depression should strengthen for the next 24-36 hours, Rouiller said.

If the system is upgraded by the NHC, it will be named Tropical Storm Ernesto.

However, forecasts for the storm's track and intensity vary. And some hostile environmental conditions over the western half of the Caribbean could weaken the system, Rouiller said.

"If these hostile environmental conditions persist over the next few days, I have my doubts if Ernesto could survive," he said.

Most models forecast a storm threat across the Gulf next week with the stretch of coast between Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Panama City, Florida, the most vulnerable. Several oil refineries are clustered around Lake Charles.

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

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