Tropical Storm Debby spun up in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, possibly
setting the stage for a wet and windy rendezvous with a baking Lone Star State
later this week.
Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center said there was low confidence in the track of Debby, which moved slowly north across the central Gulf on Saturday evening.
"The models are going to look like a squashed spider," said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the hurricane center in Miami. "They're all over the place."
However forecasters generally believe the storm will eventually make a westward turn, approaching the Texas coast by Wednesday or Thursday.
Because it is early in the season, and the depth of warm ocean water is still relatively thin, Debby is not expected to intensify explosively as some Gulf storms do in August and September. "The heat content doesn't favor rapid intensification," said Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist at the Pennsylvania-based Planalytics Inc.
If the storm does not strengthen into a large hurricane, it might provide some relief on what is expected to be the state's warmest week of the year so far.
Triple digits likely
Temperatures on Saturday in Houston topped out at 96 degrees, and the National Weather Service expects daily highs to approach 100 degrees for most of the area through the middle of the week.
Depending upon its track, Debby could bring a halt to that.
After Debby wobbles north Louisiana, forecasters say the storm should eventually bump up against the strong high pressure system that's bringing the hot, sunny days to the southern United States. When this happens, likely near the Louisiana coast, the high would steer the storm west toward Texas.
It's not clear yet what area of the Texas coastline the storm will target, but after its formation Saturday, forecast models should begin to gain a better handle on its track by Sunday.
Debby's formation marked the first time four storms have formed in the Atlantic basin before July since record-keeping began in 1851. The earliest fourth named storm before this season came in 2005, on July 5, with Hurricane Dennis.
During an average hurricane year the fourth named storm doesn't develop until late August.
Debby is also the first storm to pose a significant threat to the U.S. Gulf Coast, and on Saturday its effects were being felt offshore.
BHP Billiton Ltd. shut its Neptune and Shenzi platforms, which can together produce 150,000 barrels of oil a day and 100 million cubic feet of gas. "Those unable to evacuate will shelter in place for the tropical storm," the company said in a statement.
Murphy Oil Corp. began evacuating non-essential workers in the Gulf on Saturday, as did Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Marathon Oil Corp., Nexen Inc., Enterprise Products Partners LP and Hess Corp.
Some southeastern Louisiana coastal communities were also moving on Saturday to close their floodgates in advance of the storm's approach.
Although it's never wise to court the tropics, the truth is Texas could use Debby's rains.
The state has made a substantial recovery since the 2011 drought, but two-thirds of Texas remains in at least a moderate drought, with parts of southern Texas still in an extreme drought.
And after experiencing its warmest days of the year this week, some clouds and possibly some rain would be welcome up and down the state's coastline.
This report contains material from Chronicle wire services.
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