More Storms on the Way
Could the next storm disrupt oil production in the Gulf? REUTERS

Texas has prayed for rain during a months-long drought that has escalated in recent weeks with severe heat, but the Lone Star state probably didn't want a hurricane to solve the dilemma. Forecasters say, however, that the next hurricane threat to the U.S. may not be Hurricane Katia.

A new low-pressure system has developed in the Gulf of Mexico that the National Hurricane Center says is likely to become a tropical cyclone in the next two days before possibly threatening the U.S. as a hurricane, with potential for eventual landfall in Texas. Louisiana and Mississippi, states hit hard by Katrina in 2005, are also at risk, according to storm models.

The developing system is now over the central part of the gulf and it has already caused some international oil and gas companies, including BP, to evacuate workers from offshore platforms.

BP Plc became the first major oil producer on Wednesday to say it was evacuating more than 500 non-essential workers from platforms in the Southern Green Canyon area. London-based BP said it is preparing for a potential shut down in the Gulf region should the storm escalate.

Based in Miami, the National Hurricane Center says the low pressure area is producing a large mass of clouds, thunderstorms and gusty winds while it heads slowly to the northwest.

This system has a high chance... 70 percent... of becoming a tropical cyclone during the next 48 hours... Interests along the entire northern Gulf of Mexico coast should monitor the progress of this disturbance, the NHC said.

Computer models show the still-developing system could strike the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, and possibly Mississippi. If the system reaches tropical storm strength, it will be named Lee. The storm would become the 12th named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.

Texas is in a unique predicament with the storm, desperately needing rain and relief from drough and heat while Vermont and others in the wake of Hurricane Irene try to pick up pieces on the East Coast, Texas has been dealing with a searing drought and heat wave for months, but it's gotten worse in recent weeks.

Days ago, for instance, Austin burned at 112 degrees, an all-time record.

In addition to Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico have been scorched by a searing heat wave thriving upon drought conditions. The drier it gets, the hotter it gets. Sunlight hits the parched ground, evaporating any remaining moisture, raising the temperature.

Meanwhile, as the tropical disturbance develops in the Gulf, eyes remain on another Altantic storm, Hurricane Katia, Currently at Category 1. Though current forecasts don't show a high probability of a U.S. strike, Hurricane Katia is likely to become a major storm this weekend, and an eventual threat to the U.S. has not been ruled out.

The National Hurricane Center said Thursday Katia, about 1,000 miles east of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, is on a projected path to be well east of the Bahamas and south of Bermuda by Sept. 6. Katia has winds near 75 miles per hour, and the storm is moving west at 20 miles per hour.

Katia is the second hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season, after Hurricane Irene, and though models are uncertain after early next week some examples do show the storm could make U.S. landfall. The Atlantic hurricane season typically brings 11 or 12 named storms. Katia is already the 11th and with half the season still ahead, this season could turn out to be extremely active after several quiet years.

Strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, the NHC said. Katia could become a major hurricane by the weekend.

Katia is now a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. Major hurricanes, Category 3 on the scale, have winds greater than 110 mph -- and Katia is likely to reach that.

The NHC forecast shows Katia becoming a major hurricane by the weekend but sees its center missing the Caribbean islands on its north-westward track. Forecasters say it is still too early to say with certainty that the hurricane poses no threat to the U.S. eastern seaboard.

However, some long-range computer models, which can be off by hundreds of kilometres, show Katia eventually swinging north toward the mid-Atlantic island of Bermuda, away from the U.S. coast.