Oil Spill: What Happens If a Hurricane Hits?

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NASA/Corbis

Hurricane season is only three weeks away, and with BP still struggling to patch the leak in the Gulf of Mexico, there’s little hope the slick will be cleaned up by then. What happens if a hurricane hits?

According to Florida’s ABC 7, no hurricane has ever mixed with an oil slick before. But it is possible that a large enough hurricane could take some of the oil airborne. “The worst case scenario would be for a large hurricane to get into the Gulf of Mexico and actually kick up the seas enough to cause that oil to become airborne and then be transported with some of the showers of the mist,” says ABC 7 chief meteorologist Bob Harrigan.

But its little understood how an oil spill could affect a hurricane’s strength. Hurricane storm systems are fueled by warm water on the surface, and no existing models take into account what role a thin sheen of oil could play. But even if a hurricane does strike, scientists say any airborne oil would be “weathered” by the storm, degrading it faster.

There’s a 44 percent chance of a hurricane crossing the Gulf of Mexico in upcoming months, according to researchers at Colorado State University, a group that makes hurricane projections each year

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