David Shepherd: News Blog

Journalist's Notebook

Alex Strikes Land; Pushed Oil on Beaches, Spawns Tornadoes

— By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] Thursday, July 1, 2010


Weather Channel Iwitness Photo

Hurricane Alex made landfall as a Category 2 storm along the Gulf of Mexico’s coastline in northern Mexico, very close to the border with Texas.

Neighboring states’ residents had their worst fears confirmed as the powerful storm managed to push thick crude oil onto nearby beaches; kicked up by the high waves Alex has whipped up along most of the Gulf coast.

Heavy rains and maximum winds of 110 mph slammed into Mexico’s northern Tamaulipas state; approximately 110 miles south of Brownsville, Texas.

Residents in the Mexican fishing villages and marketplaces packed onto buses to move inland in the hopes of dodging Alex’s potentially deadly wrath.  Emergency shelters have been set up at several locations in San Fernando.

At least 3 people have been killed by Alex’s furry in Mexico.  No reports of deaths in the United States so far.

Texas Tornadoes

Alex’s fierce rotation spawned at least two tornadoes near Brownsville, TX.  One tornado is being blamed for flipping over a trailer and causing other damage nearby.

The National Weather Service downgraded its storm warning for the Texas coast from hurricane to tropical storm strength.

Photo: Weather Channel Coverage

The Gulf coast has been feeling the effects of Alex’s outer bands for hours.  Two tornadoes were reported near Brownsville, Texas.  No immediate report of injuries but damage reports are coming in from around that area.

KRGV – TV in Rio Grande Valley, Texas reports, on the breaking news, SAN PEDRO – ”

The river level is rising near the Arroyo Colorado river.

It appears a tornado touched down in the San Pedro community. A water station flipped over, a semi-trailer tipped over and tree limbs are scattered everywhere.

The twister jumped the road and headed south, missing some home.”

Mandatory evacuations tonight in Cameron County, Texas, southward to the nearby South Padre Island as Hurricane Alex continues to gain strength in the Gulf of Mexico.  As we’ve been telling you, Alex is taking aim at the coastal areas of south Texas, near the border with Mexico.

Officials in southern Texas have been preparing throughout the day for Alex’s arrival.  They’ve readied rescue vehicles set up emergency shelters in San Antonio and Laredo.

Tourists on South Padre Island left the white sand beaches and heeded official’s evacuation warnings to get out of town.  Hotels and restaurants, usually packed this time of year, have been deserted with very few wanting to tempt the wrath of the year’s first Atlantic hurricane.

Doctor Tells NBC “Oil Spray” Could Be Harmful

Dr. Michio Kaku, host of TV’s “Sci-Fi Science” says “oil spray” could cause negative health effects for many Gulf coast residents during an interview on MSNBC Wednesday afternoon.

Kaku says winds, rotating counter-clockwise miles from the storm’s center, are “churning up a tremendous amount of activity.”

Those who have lived through a hurricane know the mist, or spray, that fills the air from the water being blown onshore at upwards of 100 MPH or more.  Kaku believes that spray will contain crude oil particles which could be harmful if inhaled.

In 1999, researcher Craig F. Stead submitted a study to the CDC Conference on the Health Impacts of Chemical Exposures during the Gulf war.  That study was talking about a much higher rate of exposure than would be experienced in a weather event like Hurricane Alex.  Stead’s study shows even petroleum exposure on a smaller scale can cause life threatening symptoms.

Stead’s study indicates petroleum exposure presented symptoms such as “fatigue, breathlessness, cough, skin rash, headache, diarrhea, and memory loss.”  In extreme cases, it can also cause cancer, according to Stead.

Image: The Weather ChannelIf Kaku’s prediction is correct, it could expose Gulf coast residents to potentially toxic particles.  Kaku told MSNBC, “Emulsified oil coming down in people’s hair from rooftops, it’s going to be a mess…even with a near miss.”

He also thinks tar balls, the size of apples could be “launched through the air in people’s yards, pools, and streets” in the storm’s fierce winds.

Many experts admit they don’t know what will happen since a hurricane has never hit near the site of a major oil spill.  Kaku’s forecast

Image: The Weather Channel

may be a worst-case scenario, but, at the very least, Alex will come as a dress rehearsal for future hurricanes this season.

Either way, it’s just another concern for residents already devastated by the effects of the BP oil spill; which seems to be getting worse every day.


June 30, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hurricane Alex’s Outer Bands Battering South Texas

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It’s the first time a hurricane has churned through the Gulf of Mexico during an oil spill so there are many unknowns tonight as to how Hurricane Alex will affect coastal areas.

Alex strengthened this afternoon as it takes aim at the Texas / Mexico border and it’s expected to strengthen to a Category 2 storm before making landfall Wednesday night.

As of 11 a.m., the National Hurricane Center says Alex was moving WNW at 7 mph with maximum sustained winds of 80 MPH.

Hurricane warnings have been posted from Baffin Bay, Texas, southward to La Cruz, Mexico.  Tropical storm-force winds are expected in the warned area within the next few hours.

The storm’s rotation poses a risk of tornadoes this evening.  The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for southeastern parts of the Texas coast until 8 p.m. [local time].  Flooding rains, damaging winds sustained at 90 MPH, with higher gusts, can be expected as well as severe thunderstorms, flash floods and tornadoes.

Differing Opinions About Alex’s Impact on Oil Spill

Hurricane Alex is not expected to directly hit the areas currently dealing with the BP oil spill in the Gulf; the storm will pass far to the southwest of the spill.  But meteorologists fear the outer wind fields and rotating feeder-bands could be strong enough to push more oil further inland in coastal areas already devastated by the affects of the spill.  Waves up to 15 feet could crash onto beaches as far away from the impact zone as Florida; possibly pushing the thick crude further onto the white sand beaches that line the Gulf coast.

Other researchers hope the storm will cause the opposite effect; stirring up the oil and pushing it further into the Gulf.

As I mentioned, this is an unprecedented event so no one really knows what the hurricane will do with the millions of gallons of oil spewed so far.

Oil and gas operators in the Gulf have begun evacuating rigs within the path of the hurricane.  The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement told reporters Tuesday 28 platforms and 3 rigs have been shut down; that’s nearly a quarter of the Gulf’s oil production and 9 percent of its natural gas production.

Rough seas have caused BP to bring their skimming boats to safe harbor, putting a delay into the oil spill clean-up efforts.  While those boats are out of commission, the oil will continue to spill, unchecked, until it’s safe to get the vessels back to the spill site.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment