Hurricane Warnings as Storm Alex Strengthens in Gulf

MIAMI (Dow Jones Newswires), June 29, 2010

Authorities issued hurricane warnings in Texas and northeastern Mexico as forecasters predicted that Tropical Storm Alex, churning in the oil spill-hit Gulf of Mexico, would reach hurricane force Tuesday.

The storm's center at 0900 GMT was 460 miles (735 kilometers) southeast of Brownsville, Texas, where the Rio Grande river--which forms the border between the U.S. and Mexico--reaches the ocean, the National Hurricane Center said.

Alex appeared to be well southwest of the area worst hit by the massive BP Gulf oil spill--the U.S. coasts of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana--though its strong winds will cause problems for the cleanup effort.

On its current path, the center of Alex would make landfall just south of the U.S.-Mexico border early Thursday.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour (110 kilometers per hour) and was moving toward the northwest at eight miles per hour, the Miami, Fla.-based hurricane center said.

U.S. authorities issued a hurricane warning for the coast of Texas south of Baffin Bay to the mouth of the Rio Grande, while Mexican officials issued a hurricane warning from the Rio Grande to La Cruz.

"A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area," the NHC said, noting that they are usually posted 36 hours before the first tropical storm force winds arrive.

Alex was expected to continue gathering force as it moves over the warm Gulf waters on its forward track. "Additional strengthening is forecast, and Alex is likely to become a hurricane on Tuesday," the NHC bulletin said.

While Alex appeared set to sidestep the Gulf spill, its strong winds were forecast to whip up waves large enough to prevent crews from attaching a third containment vessel to a riser pipe suctioning oil from a containment cap some 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the surface.

According to the NHC, tropical storm force winds currently "extend outward up to 105 miles" to the northeast from the center of Alex.

An estimated 1.6 million to 3.6 million barrels of oil have poured into the Gulf since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers.

The NHC said the storm could cause dangerous floods and was set to drench parts of northeastern Mexico and southern Texas with five to 10 inches (13-25 centimeters) of rain in coming days.

"Additional rainfall accumulations of three to six inches over southern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula" were expected through Tuesday, with isolated maximums of 10 inches possible over mountainous areas.

"These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides," the NHC warned.

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