South Florida and Western Bahamas Beaches at Risk from Gulf Oil Spill

June 13, 2010; 6:02 PM ET
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Pieces of the Gulf oil slick are breaking off and beginning to enter the loop current, which may propel tar balls towards beaches in the Bahamas and South Florida over the next several weeks.

Freeport and Grand Bahama Island, even Nassau, could be impacted by drifting oil pieces caught in the Gulf Stream current, which flows around the tip of Florida and passes along the western end of the Bahamas.

Assuming oil continues to spew from the broken well, meteorologists and various models suggest oil slick pieces cutting under the Florida Keys and heading towards Florida's east coast by early next week.

Meteorologists foresee oil passing under Key West, Fla., possibly washing upon shores in Miami, and then heading north to Freeport, Bahamas.

A trajectory could also place oil pieces farther south, interacting with beaches along Havana, Cuba and then swinging wide through Grand Bahama Island.

The loop current exists as part of the Gulf Stream, which flows north between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula, and continues to flow north into the Gulf of Mexico before looping to the south and then east through the Florida Straits.

The danger of oil becoming wrapped in the loop current is the current's Gulf Stream direction, which could carry oil, mostly in the form of tar balls, swiftly up the Atlantic Seaboard.

The Associated Press reported that a cap placed on the broken well last week is currently channeling more than half of escaping oil to a surface ship.

Upcoming Weather Conditions

Warm, humid weather will persist across the Gulf Coast region this upcoming week. Winds are expected to be light and variable through Monday before becoming oriented out of the south Tuesday into the middle of the week. This shift to southerly winds will increase the threat of tar balls showing up along Florida Panhandle beaches.

Seas will average between 1 and 2 feet much of the week.

Beach Update

There were reports of tar balls washing up on Pensacola, Fla. beaches as early as last Friday morning. A few tar balls also have been reported along northwestern Florida's Emerald Coast. However, there are currently no beach closings in the state of Florida.

The Gulf Island beaches are also open, with pieces of oil showing up over the weekend at Horn and Petit Bois islands, as well as at Fort Pickens and Satna Rosa. Orange Beach, Ala. currently has a swimming advisory put into place by the Alabama State Department of Public Heath.

Grand Isle, La. has also closed its public beaches.

People should avoid swimming in oil impacted areas, as the odor alone can cause respiratory problems. Swallowing water infused with oil can also cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

What's the Probability of Tar Balls Impacting Your Coastal Spot?

Below is a table that provides the probability of oil reaching specific locations. We will continue to make updates to the table as weather conditions and oil containment efforts develop.

What do the probabilities mean?

For example, at Galveston Island during the next 30 days, there is a 5% chance of oil impacting coastal areas within that time period.

Over the next 120 days, there is a 15% chance of impact.

Please note, while the probabilities do take into account the Hurricane Forecast, the probabilities can change dramatically based on the strength and path of a hurricane moving through the Gulf of Mexico.

Location7 Days30 Days60 Days90 Days120 Days
Grand Isle, La.100%100%100%100%100%
Gulfport, Miss.60%75%80%85%90%
Mobile Bay, Ala.100%100%100%100%100%
Florida Coast and Bahamas
Pensacola, Fla.100%100%100%100%100%
Tampa, Fla.5%25%35%40%45%
Key West, Fla.8%15%25%35%40%
Miami Beach, Fla.5%5%5%10%15%
Daytona Beach, Fla.1%2%2%3%5%
Jacksonville, Fla.1%1%1%2%3%
East Coast
Charleston, S.C.0%0%0%1%2%
Myrtle Beach, S.C.0%0%0%1%2%
Cape Hatteras, N.C.0%0%0%2%3%
Norfolk, Va.0%0%0%1%2%
Ocean City, Md.0%0%0%0%1%
Atlantic City, N.J.0%0%0%0%1%
Montauk Long Island, N.Y.0%0%0%0%1%
Cape Cod, Mass.0%0%0%0%1%
Texas and Mexico Coast
Port Arthur, Texas0%5%10%15%20%
Galveston Island, Texas 0%5%10%12%15%
Corpus Christi, Texas 0%0%5%8%10%
Brownsville, Texas 0%0%0%4%8%
Cancun, Mexico0%4%8%12%20%

Content contributed by Expert Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity.

Related to the Story:

Oil Slick Impedes Industry

What's the Probability of Oil Drifters Rounding Florida?

Oil Slick Could Accelerate Up the East If Not Contained Soon

What are Tar Balls?

BP Running Out of Time in the Gulf of Mexico

Florida to Louisiana under the Greatest Risk of Oil Contamination during Hurricane Season


Government Ratings Plummet Regarding Oil Response

Tar Balls the Newest Addition in the Gulf Coast

Criminal Investigation Launched Over Oil Spill

If a Hurricane Hits The Gulf: Where Will the Oil Go?

President Obama: BP Had Underwater Cameras the Whole Time

The Loop Current...not Just a Hurricane Concern!

Ocean Currents Likely to Carry Oil Along Atlantic Coast

The 1979 Oil Spill and Tropical Cyclones that Followed

What the Oil Spill Looks Like on the Beaches

NASA Timelapse of the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico


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