Tropical Storm Bonnie made landfall south of Miami yesterday and has crossed the southern Florida peninsula as a minimal tropical storm with winds of 40 MPH.
Efforts to completely seal the leaking BP oil well and clean the spill have been halted and the workers have been evacuated from the area due to the expectation of high waves from the storm. The cap that is currently in place will be left in place. Earlier concerns were that teh cap would have to be removed but it appears that it is secure enought that it will withstand the effects of Bonnie as the storm crosses the area.
At the spill site, the water no longer looks thick with gooey tar. But the oil is still there beneath the surface, staining the hull of cutters motoring around in it.
Marc Jones, a former Navy officer who helped lead the Exxon Valdez cleanup in 1989, said a storm will churn any oil in its path, causing it to thicken. "It cuts the options .... You cannot use dispersants, cannot burn it," he said.
The cap that stopped the flow of oil into the Gulf a week ago will remain in place "even if the well is unattended," Allen said.
A week of steady measurements through cameras and other devices convinced Allen they don't need to open vents to relieve pressure on the cap, which engineers had worried might contribute to leaks underground and an even bigger blowout. The cap was attached a week ago, and only minor leaks have been detected.
Pressure inside the well has risen steadily since the cap was installed, giving BP confidence that the cap on the well will hold, BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said.
BP will monitor the well as the storm approaches and resume monitoring as early as possible after it passes, Wells said, adding that BP is confident "that we can go away from the well site ... over that period."
Scientists seem to agree, saying even a severe storm shouldn't affect the well cap, nearly a mile beneath the ocean surface 40 miles from the Louisiana coast. "Assuming all lines are disconnected from the surface, there should be no effect on the well head by a passing surface storm," said Paul Bommer, professor of petroleum engineering at University of Texas at Austin.
Charles Harwell, a BP contractor monitoring the cap, was also confident.
"That cap was specially made, it's on tight, we've been looking at the progress and it's all good," he said after his ship returned to Port Fourchon, La.
Cleanup operations also have been affected, said Zukunft, the federal on-scene coordinator for spill response.
Fifteen heavy offshore skimmers have pulled away from the well site and 1,300 fishing boats and private vessels involved in placing boom and skimming operations have been ordered to seek shelter, Zukunft said.
"We're ... moving boom and other resources in the area to higher ground," he said.
The storm weakened to a tropical depression as it entered the Gulf of Mexico due to the interaction with land as it crossed the peninsula. Bonnie is expected to regain strength but it will remain a tropical storm as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico towards Louisiana.
Tropical Depression Bonnie is moving into the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
As of 5 p.m. Eastern Time Friday, the center of Bonnie was located about 35 miles south of Fort Myers, FL, or about 485 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with top winds near 35 miles per hour. Bonnie is currently moving to the west-northwest near 18 miles per hour, and is expected to maintain this general speed and direction through Saturday.
Bonnie may strengthen to tropical storm status again Saturday, but most likely will not become a hurricane.
Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the northern Gulf Coast between Destin, Florida, and Morgan City, Louisiana, including Lake Pontchartrain.