Bloomberg News

Tropical Storm Lee Makes Landfall, Soaks U.S. Gulf Region

September 04, 2011

(Updates Lee’s location in the second paragraph.)

Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Tropical Storm Lee picked up speed and began a jog toward the waterlogged U.S. Northeast after making landfall and soaking Louisiana today. Extensive flooding is possible along the Gulf Coast and in the Tennessee Valley tomorrow.

The storm was about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west-southwest of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, moving north-northeast at 8 miles per hour as of 1 p.m. local time, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory. Tropical-storm force winds still lashed the Gulf of Mexico, where 60 percent of oil production and 44 percent of natural gas output is halted, the U.S. said.

“Flash flooding is the biggest threat with Lee, and will remain the big story into this week,” Andy Mussoline, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.com Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania said in a telephone interview. High pressure expected to form over the U.S. Northeast may deflect both Lee and Atlantic Hurricane Katia from areas flooded by Hurricane Irene a week ago, he said.

The center of Lee is expected to move slowly across Louisiana today. As much as 10.8 inches (27 centimeters) of rain had fallen through 7 a.m. local time this morning in New Orleans, while 10.4 inches came down in Pascagoula, Mississippi, the National Weather Service said.

Electricity Supply

Entergy Corp., owner of Louisiana’s largest utility, battled rain and wind after restoring electricity this morning to all but about 3,400 of the 38,000 homes and businesses that lost it yesterday, Philip Allison, a spokesman for the New Orleans-based Entergy, said today in an interview.

“We had no severe weather yesterday afternoon and evening so we were able to get crews out in the field,” Allison said. Power failures rose to nearly 9,400 as of noon today as weather worsened, the company said on its website. Numbers will fluctuate depending on local conditions, it said.

Lee eased Louisiana’s worst drought since 1902, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Rainfall through July was 11 inches lower than average, although August precipitation was higher than normal, the center said. Most rain missed Texas, where the driest year on record continues.

Offshore Operations

About 60 percent of Gulf oil production and 44 percent of gas output is shut by the storm, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. That equates to about 843,223 barrels of oil and 2.3 billion cubic feet of gas, the bureau said today on its website.

Lee probably will keep most offshore oil workers ashore today, and some of them idle until Tuesday, said Mike Hurst, chief pilot of PHI Inc. in Lafayette, Louisiana. The company is the largest provider of helicopters to Gulf oil producers.

“Weather may permit flying to some oil and gas platforms near the coast today in the western Gulf of Mexico,” Hurst said. “We may reasonably expect to fly normally in the western areas and some of the central blocks tomorrow.”

Royal Dutch Shell Plc said today it began returning some workers to its facilities in the western Gulf. The company evacuated a total of 858 workers ahead of the storm.

ExxonMobil Corp., the largest U.S. oil company, also is returning staff to some offshore platforms and has begun to restore some production, spokesman David Eglinton said today in an e-mailed message.

The Storm Prediction Center said there were eight reports of tornadoes touching down in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle yesterday. Twisters were reported today in Sumrall, Mississippi, and Crystal Lake, Florida, with no damage to structures.

Hurricane Katia

Forecasters said the storm system has the potential to bring heavy rain to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning tomorrow.

Parts of the East Coast are still drying from Hurricane Irene, which made landfall on Aug. 27. It cut a path of destruction from North Carolina to Maine, leaving 45 people dead and 6.69 million homes and businesses without power.

Hurricane Katia surged in strength over the Atlantic this morning, intensifying in six hours to a Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 100 miles an hour at 10 a.m. New York time. It had been a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70 miles an hour at 4 a.m. The storm was about 360 miles northeast of the northern Leeward Islands.

Katia may strengthen into a “major hurricane” with winds of at least 111 miles per hour tomorrow, the hurricane center said.

--With assistance from Alexis Xydias in London. Editors: Theo Mullen, Sylvia Wier

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Hart in Washington at dahart@bloomberg.net; Jim Polson in New York at jpolson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sylvia Wier at swier@bloomberg.net


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