As Hurricane Season Begins, Oil Spill Still a Grave Concern

The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season has begun -- and comes at a time when oil from a spill off the Louisiana coast continues spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

In agreement with earlier reports from Accuweather and meteorologists at Colorado State University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently warned of a threatening season in its annual forecast. The effect of hurricanes on the continuing environmental disaster in the Gulf remains of top concern to meteorologists.

Hurricane season for the western Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico begins June 1 and lasts through Nov. 30. That's when about 90 percent of the storms make themselves present. NOAA predicts an active season, with as many as 23 named tropical storms. An estimated eight to 14 of those storms could strengthen into hurricanes, and of those storms, three to seven could become major hurricanes.

Scientists seem to agree that the sprawling oil slick in the Gulf isn't likely to affect the formation of a storm. NOAA has gone so far as to release a factsheet on the agency's response to the oil spill, which points out this out, explaining that hurricanes have a far greater footprint than that of the oil slick at present (covering 200 to 300 miles), and if this scale continues, the "anticipated impact on the hurricane would be minimal."

But the real worry is that a hurricane might turn the millions of gallons of floating crude into a crashing black surf. The NOAA factsheet but leaves many questions open. "The high winds may distribute oil over a wider area, but it is difficult to model exactly where the oil may be transported," it notes, and also points out that "movement of oil would depend greatly on the track of the hurricane."

A Gulf hurricane is unlikely to disperse oil in the form of rain, since the storms draw water vapor from an area much larger than that covered by oil, NOAA assures. The first named storm of this Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30, will be called Alex.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.