The first three weeks of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season have been quiet, but a low-pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) at the end of the week was threatening to make some noise that would be heard by energy interests.

On Friday afternoon the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center (NHC) said there was a 70% chance that a broad-surface low-pressure system located just north of the Yucatan Peninsula could become a tropical cyclone by Sunday afternoon.

“Environmental conditions appear conducive for a tropical depression to form,” NHC said.

The system was expected to move slowly northward, and heavy rains and localized flooding were forecast for the Yucatan Peninsula, western Cuba and southern Florida through Saturday, NHC said. If the system were to strengthen, it could become Debby, the fourth named storm of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season.

On Friday afternoon Shell said it was “preparing for rough conditions across all operations and some weather-sensitive activities such as construction and painting may be delayed or shut-down in anticipation of the expected deteriorating weather conditions. Accordingly, minimal staff associated with those activities may be evacuated from some central and western deepwater GOM asset locations over the next few days.” Those personnel were not essential to core producing and drilling operations, and production was not expected to be affected, Shell said.

“There is a slight chance this feature could become a tropical depression as early as tonight,” said Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski on Friday. “However, we feel this system will become better organized this weekend and should become Tropical Storm Debby later Saturday or on Sunday.” The forecaster expected the system to move north into the central GOM over the weekend, “where it will have ample opportunity to strengthen.”

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, Tropical Storm Chris, formed last Tuesday southeast of the Canadian Maritimes and never threatened the North American mainland. By midday Friday NHC had downgraded Chris to a post-tropical cyclone and the system was located about 335 miles east-southeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland.

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 Daily GPI, Nov. 29, 2011).

The consensus forecast this year has been that the hurricane season is likely to produce fewer tropical storms than seen the last few years (see Daily GPI, June 4).

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