Oil slick winds and waves to ease early next week

May 14, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
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Mother Nature will provide another break from onshore winds and waves for a time next week along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast.

Winds and Waves

Southeasterly winds will continue through at least Sunday averaging 10 to 20 mph.

The stiff winds could act to push pockets of the oil slick northwestward, either closer to and onto a larger part of the eastern Louisiana coastline. The winds and currents were changing the shape of the slick constantly.

Waves will average 4 to 6 feet around the site of the slick through the weekend.

The choppy waves will also cause to some stability challenges for surface vessels and containment/cleanup operations.

The choppy waves may work to break up parts of the oil slick, but could negatively impact the efficiency of boom systems.

Meanwhile, approximately 5,000 feet down, there is no significant wave action. Even during a hurricane, the weather at the bottom remains relatively calm, aside from steady deep water currents.

The attempt to lower a smaller funneling device on the source of the large leak at the bottom failed late this week.

The process of drilling a new well to relieved the pressure on the leaking pipe is underway but will take weeks, if not months to complete.

Winds and waves are forecast to ease up early next week. Waves Monday into Wednesday are forecast to subside to 1 to 2 feet. Winds are expected to become west and northwest and diminish to 6 to 12 mph.

Showers and locally drenching thunderstorms may temporarily work to break up some of the patches of the slick Sunday into Monday.

A dead dolphin was found on Horn Island in the Gulf of Mexico. AP Photo.

Unpredictable Long-term drift

While the factor of winds, waves and storms makes for a tremendous forecast challenge as to where the oil slick will end up, shifting ocean currents are another issue.

The Loop Current, located in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, is a concern, as it links to the Gulf Stream, which carries warm water northward along the Atlantic Seaboard.

This is a computer model's rendition of the state of the oil slick and water trajectories as of Tuesday. The black area is the approximate location of the oil slick. The red circle is the site of the leak and the red area over the lower center of the image is the Loop Current. The image is courtesy of the College of Marine Science and the University of South Florida.

In theory, if the oil slick were to get caught in the Loop Current, it could be transported to the Gulf Stream around Florida waters, then up part of the East Coast, potentially impacting wildlife and shoreline communities along the way.

On one hand, prevailing winds over the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico this time of year are from the south. Since the slick is still about 80 miles away from the main circulation of the Loop Current in the southeastern Gulf, it would appear not to be an immediate concern.

However, small local spirals, known as eddies, often break off of the Loop Current and could cause the slick to wander and spread just about anywhere. The Loop Current itself often changes shape and location to some extent, adding more uncertainty to the mix.

Local currents along the shoreline may protect some communities and could bring the slick onshore in others. However, winds and tides can cause these local currents to shift by the hour.

One thing is certain, the longer the leak goes unchecked, the greater the chance of the slick spreading to areas other than just the Louisiana shoreline.

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Story by AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski with contributions from Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski


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