Photograph courtesy NASA via AP
Read Caption
Tropical storm Alex over Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras Saturday.
Photograph courtesy NASA via AP

Gulf's Tropical Storm Alex May Become Major Hurricane

Alex may wallop Texas-Mexico border but shouldn't affect Gulf oil spill.

As a strengthening tropical storm Alex heads for a likely landfall later this week along Texas's or northern Mexico's Gulf coast, the potential hurricane isn't expected to hamper cleanup and containment efforts around the site of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

"It looks like Alex will move well west of where the oil is," said Michael Brennan, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "At this point, it looks like it will have no significant impact." (See Gulf of Mexico map.)

Oil has been gushing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico since the BP-leased oil rig Deepwater Horizon blew up and sank in April. The oil leak is about 130 miles (210 kilometers) southeast of New Orleans. (See "Hurricane Could Push Spilled Gulf Oil Into New Orleans.")

Hurricane Alex to Be Major?

Alex is expected to make landfall almost 600 miles (966 kilometers) west of the oil spill late Wednesday or early Thursday, the National Hurricane Center announced Monday morning.

Wind shear—winds that can disrupt tropical storms and sap them of strength—is predicted to diminish Tuesday, Brennan said.

These calmer upper-level winds should help tropical storm Alex grow into a Category 2 hurricane, with winds of at least 96 miles (155 kilometers) an hour. There's even a slight chance that Alex could become a major hurricane, with winds exceeding 110 miles (177 kilometers) an hour, Brennan added.

By comparison, Hurricane Katrina was blowing at about 125 miles (200 kilometers) an hour when it made landfall near New Orleans in 2005. (See "'Ominous' Pre-Katrina Conditions Now in Atlantic.")

Tropical Storm Alex's Path

Tropical storm Alex began June 25 as a tropical depression in the western Caribbean Sea. Alex strengthened into a tropical storm and made landfall Sunday on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula with winds of about 40 miles (64 kilometers) an hour.

Deprived of warm water, which fuels storms, Alex lost strength as it moved across land. But the storm immediately began regaining strength when it hit the southwestern Gulf of Mexico earlier today.

As of Monday morning, tropical storm Alex was about 570 miles (920 kilometers) southeast of Brownsville, Texas (map), on the Texas-Mexico border.

Tropical storm Alex is the first named storm of the 2010 Atlantic Basin hurricane season. It's not, however, the Atlantic's first tropical storm Alex. That honor went to 1998's tropical storm Alex, which failed to make landfall. 2004's Hurricane Alex grazed North Carolina as a Category 2 storm. (Related: "2004 U.S. Hurricane Season Among Worst on Record.")

In late May, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters predicted a very active 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, with an estimated 14 or more hurricanes forming before hurricane season ends November 30.