A storm brewing in the Caribbean brought the deep-sea effort to plug the ruptured oil well to a near standstill Wednesday just as BP was getting tantalizingly close to going in for the kill.
Work on the relief well — now just days from completion — was suspended, and the cap that has been keeping the oil bottled up since last week may have to be reopened, allowing crude to gush into the sea again for days, said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man on the crisis.
“This is necessarily going to be a judgment call,” said Allen, who was waiting to see how the storm developed before deciding whether to order any of the ships and crews stationed some 50 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico to head for safety.
The cluster of thunderstorms passed over Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, and forecasters said the system would probably move into the Gulf over the weekend. They gave it a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression or a tropical storm by Friday.
Hurricane Hunters from Keesler Air Force Base were expected to fly into the area Wednesday out of St. Croix, but the flight was canceled. The Hurricane Hunters are on standby to possibly fly today, depending on developments.
By then, according to Dr. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground, the storm should be moving toward the eastern Bahamas. South and Central Florida could see heavy rain tonight or early Friday and make landfall between Miami and Cape Canaveral on Friday, according to computer models. Once over Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico, models predict a second landfall somewhere between eastern Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle, putting Mississippi into the mix.
The intensity is not expected to reach hurricane level, but much of that depends on how much it breaks down passing over Florida, according to Masters.