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Early Tropical Activity Prompts WSI to Bump Up Hurricane Forecast

The recent emergence of Tropical Storm Debby in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), the unusually early start of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season and an increase in North Atlantic water temperatures prompted Weather Services International (WSI) to increase the number of tropical storms in its forecast for this year.

The WSI forecast team now expects a total of 12 named storms in the Atlantic Basin this year, including six hurricanes, three of them major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). That would be slightly lower than the 1950-2011 average of 12 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes and the 1995-2011 average of 15/eight/four, and it would be significantly less tropical activity than was observed in 2010 or 2011. WSI's previous forecast for this year had been 11/six/two (see NGI, May 28).

"Although we are off to a fast start in 2012, we feel that the season will tail off more quickly than usual in September and October as a significant El Nino event continues to mature," said WSI Chief Meteorologist Todd Crawford. "However, the combination of a fast start and the recent increase in North Atlantic surface temperature anomalies over the last month dictate that we increase our forecast numbers a bit.

"Further, while the El Nino is rapidly developing, the atmospheric pattern is lagging a bit and does not yet have an El Nino 'look.' We expect the atmosphere to respond to El Nino over the next couple months, with increasingly unfavorable conditions for tropical development as the season wears on."

Debby, the fourth named storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, formed near the Yucatan peninsula, forcing offshore GOM oil and gas operators to evacuate workers from platforms and shut in production June 23. However, many of the major GOM leaseholders, including BP plc and Royal Dutch Shell plc, were redeploying their workers by the beginning of last week.

"This process will begin with our westernmost facilities and continue in coming days," a BP spokesman said early last week. "Crews will then move to safely resume oil and natural gas production and drilling operations."

By Tuesday Anadarko Petroleum Corp. had returned essential personnel to all of its producing facilities. "We have restarted production at the operated Constitution and Marco Polo platforms. We anticipate restarting production at Neptune and Independence Hub as safely and quickly as possible."

Chevron Corp. on Thursday had redeployed personnel to its offshore facilities and restored production that had been impacted by the storm

Offshore oil and natural gas production in the GOM was nearly back to normal by Wednesday. Approximately 3.21% of daily oil output and 3.64% of daily gas output in the GOM remained shut-in at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the final report by the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). That was down from a peak last Monday of 44.1% and 34.8%, respectively.

Personnel from 10 production platforms, or 1.6% of the 596 manned platforms in the GOM, remained evacuated as of last Wednesday, but none of the 70 rigs operating in the GOM were evacuated. Last Monday 189 platforms and 22 rigs had been evacuated.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, got off to an early start this year with the formation of Tropical Storms Alberto and Beryl in May. The season's third named system, Chris, formed southeast of the Canadian Maritimes last month and, despite becoming the season's first hurricane for a few hours on June 21, it never threatened the North American mainland.

There is no particularly strong North American landfall signal for hurricanes this year, Crawford said. "For 2012, our landfall model depicts slightly below-normal probabilities of landfall from Florida and up the East Coast, with slightly above-normal probabilities in the Gulf."

The consensus forecast this year has been that the hurricane season is likely to produce fewer tropical storms than seen the last few years.

While last year's Atlantic hurricane season didn't bring many tropical storms to GOM energy interests or the North American mainland, it did produce the third-highest number of tropical storms since records began in 1851 and continued a trend of active hurricane seasons begun in 1995 (see NGI, Dec. 5, 2011).

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