After making it through the first two months of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season with minimal activity, recent reports point to that changing — effective immediately. With multiple storms beginning to form in the tropics and the Gulf of Mexico, at least one producer has already ordered precautionary evacuations and production shut-ins.

Tropical Storm Dean, which became the fourth named storm of the 2007 Atlantic Basin hurricane season on Tuesday, is likely to become the year’s first hurricane, while a tropical wave in the Gulf of Mexico could reach tropical storm strength before bringing heavy rain to South Texas on Wednesday, according to forecaster reports.

The tropical wave in the Gulf, also known as Tropical Disturbance #34, could be classified as Tropical Storm Erin over the next 24 hours, according to forecasters. “The Southwest Regional News story reports a tropical wave located north of the Yucatan peninsula and an upper-level low over the Gulf of Mexico will interact by Wednesday morning,” said “The combined system could intensify into a tropical storm before bringing heavy rain that could lead to flash flooding in South and East Texas.”

As a result, Shell said late Tuesday that it has evacuated personnel not essential to producing and drilling operations from the facilities likely to experience the heaviest weather. “Precautionary evacuations began Monday night, resulting in the safe evacuation of 88 people,” the company said. “We are planning to evacuate approximately 100 more [Tuesday].”

Shell said it will temporarily shut in about 5 MMcf/d of gas production from the North Padre Island 975 field.

A BP spokesperson said it is business as usual currently and that the company is monitoring the storm’s path. “On the current path of the storm, we have no operations at this time,” he said.

Representatives of Anadarko and Apache Corp. said they are monitoring the situation closely. “We have eight operated platforms in the Gulf as a whole, six of which you could classify as western Gulf,” said John Christiansen, a spokesman for Anadarko. “So, yes, we are aware of the disturbance. We have not made any evacuations as of this time, but if we do think the weather starts to pose a threat to the safety of our workers, we will.”

ExxonMobil said it continues hurricane preparations for its Gulf of Mexico and South Texas operations. “ExxonMobil is determining which of its facilities may potentially be in the path of the storm, preparing those structures for heavy wind and rain, and identifying critical personnel needed for possible shut-ins,” said spokeswoman Margaret Ross. “Currently, there is no impact to production, and no personnel have been evacuated.”

The energy markets have been pretty disappointed so far with the Atlantic hurricane season’s inactivity after lofty forecasts, but the truth is the peak season is only now beginning. While the official Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, the traditional peak of activity spans from Aug. 15 to Oct. 1.

Tropical Storm Dean is currently located in the central Atlantic, still well to the east of the Lesser Antilles island chain. According to, Dean was packing maximum sustained winds near 40 mph with higher gusts. “Dean will likely intensify as it moves toward warmer water and is expected to become the first Atlantic hurricane of 2007 by later this week,” the forecasting firm said. “Tropical Storm Dean is forecast to reach the Lesser Antilles by Thursday or Friday. However, the path the developing storm will take after that is uncertain. Interests anywhere from Lesser Antilles to the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and the southeast U.S. should closely monitor the development of the tropical storm.”

While still highly unpredictable due to how far away Dean currently is, some path forecasts place Dean moving on a more northerly track, while others have it taking a more westerly course that could threaten the Gulf.

“The natural gas futures market turned higher again on Tuesday as the storm system in the central Atlantic became Tropical Storm Dean and shifted back onto a more westerly course that would carry it over Cuba and into the Gulf of Mexico next week,” said Tim Evans, an analyst with Citigroup in New York. “While having an imminent threat to production from the Gulf certainly adds urgency to the flow of buying, we continue to view short-covering as something that fund managers would look to do on some schedule anyway, as seasonal hurricane risk steps higher from August into September.”

Weather 2000 said Dean should gradually intensify this week, and it eventually becoming a hurricane is very likely. “Global model projections have shifted Dean farther south in the near term, but have curved it farther north in the longer term, in the past 48 hours,” the company said.

However, Weather 2000 warned against putting too much weight on any one path prediction. “All model projections beyond seven days should be ignored for the sake of sanity,” the company said. “Dean should progress towards and into the northeastern Caribbean; [but it is] way too early and scientifically inappropriate to discuss North American impacts — if any — beyond that.”

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