A tropical depression that could grow into a hurricane is forecast to strike the U.S. Gulf Coast late Sunday, potentially shutting down offshore oil and natural gas rigs and dealing another blow to citrus growers.
The system off the Nicaraguan coast is expected to strengthen into a tropical storm later Wednesday and reach hurricane strength with winds of 80 miles (129 kilometers) per hour Sunday as it nears the U.S. coastline between Louisiana and Florida, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Storm warnings have been issued for Honduras and Nicaragua.
Thirteen storms have formed across the Atlantic so far this season, killing hundreds of people in the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean and causing an estimated $300 billion in damage. In August, Hurricane Harvey temporarily shut down about 25 percent of oil and natural gas production in the Gulf and as much as 20 percent of U.S. refining capacity and a few weeks later Hurricane Irma devastated Florida citrus groves.
The storm "could affect portions of the northern Gulf Coast as a hurricane this weekend, with direct impacts from wind, storm surge, and heavy rainfall," Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at the center, wrote in a forecast analysis. "Residents along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida should monitor the progress of this system for the next several days."
Orange juice futures rose as much as 2.5 percent to $1.5925 a pound on ICE Futures U.S. in New York. Florida is the world's second-largest orange juice producer.
"There's been already plenty of damage; having another storm, even it's a Category 1, is not going to help the crop," Jack Scoville, vice president for Price Futures Group in Chicago, said in telephone interview. "People are kind of jumpy."
The system "definitely" poses a risk to U.S. cotton areas as well, particularly western portions of the southeast, including Alabama and Georgia, the second-largest cotton grower after Texas, Donald Keeney, meteorologist with MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland, said in a telephone interview.
Cotton futures rose as much as 1.5 percent in New York.
As it nears the U.S. coastline the storm, which would be named Nate, could strengthen to a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, the hurricane center said. There is about a 30 percent chance it will disrupt U.S. offshore energy operations, as companies may evacuate some personnel, said Matt Rogers, president of the Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.
Offshore rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico account for about 17 percent of U.S. crude oil output and 4.1 percent of gas production. About 45 percent of petroleum refining capacity and 51 percent of gas processing is along the coastline.
As the storm moves over warm water, it will grow and intensity, but by Thursday, it should cross over Honduras and Nicaragua robbing it of strength, Rogers said. Later this weekend, it could encounter wind shear that can tear storms apart in the Gulf of Mexico.
"That is going to be the trick, getting the intensity figured out," Rogers said.
The good news is that the storm should be falling apart by late Sunday, "so it will be short-lived," Rogers said.