First Atlantic Storm Powers Toward Mexico

June 29, 2011

Arlene, the first tropical storm of the North Atlantic hurricane season, churned through the southwestern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday but looked set to spare Mexico’s oilfields from a direct hit.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour and was located about 215 miles east of Tuxpan in Mexico Tuesday evening, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

“The center of Arlene is expected to reach the coast … late Wednesday night or Thursday,” the center said in a statement, adding that the storm could turn to the southwest, taking it closer to Mexico’s oil installations.

Mexico is a top oil exporter to the United States and almost all of its crude oil exports are shipped to refineries on the Gulf Coast of the United States from the three Gulf of Mexico ports, Dos Bocas, Cayo Arcas and Coatzacoalcos.

Outer bands of rain could cause brief closures of those ports, but the center’s model showed Arlene hitting further north, possibly grazing one coastal oil well near the city of Tampico but avoiding offshore platforms.

The storm could also affect the Madero refinery in Tamaulipas near Tampico, which produces 190,000 bpd.

Mexico’s Pemex is the world’s No. 7 oil producer.

The area, prone to flooding, is popular with local tourists for its beaches and many poor coastal towns lack flood defenses. The Miami-based center said Arlene could bring up to 15 inches of rain and warned of life-threatening flash floods and dangerous waves.

The rain could bring some relief to sorghum and fruit farms in the area, however, after a long dry spell that has reached critical levels in some areas of Tamaulipas and in neighboring Nuevo Leon.

Mexico was hit by Hurricane Beatriz, the second tropical storm of the Pacific season, last week but the weather system did no major damage.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Monterrey, Editing by Sandra Maler)

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