It is a potential combination of disasters - one natural, one man-made - should a tropical system cross paths with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
'We're watching the hurricane season very, very closely,' U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said during a news conference on Tuesday.
Forecasters are predicting the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season will be an active one. There is already an area of disturbed weather in the Caribbean Sea, with the potential to develop and move into the Gulf. While it has not developed yet, it has caught the eye of local emergency planners. So far, though, there are no firm plans in place for what to do if a storm approaches the spill.
'We're discussing that with BP and the folks with Unified Command in New Orleans,' Adm. Allen said.
The plan is under scrutiny from local and state officials, who said the initial plans offered up by BP were simply not good enough.
'There isn't a plan,' said Jefferson Parish Emergency Operations director Deano Bonano. 'We're in the working stages of that now, getting BP to look at that process and to put those plans in place.'
'They've gotten more specific on timelines,' said Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-Louisiana. 'Now, we're asking them to finalize agreements on staging areas and evacuation sites to make sure they are not depending on resources others may be depending on.'
Depending on its severity, a hurricane could affect the oil spill in several ways.
'On one hand, that can make it easier, break the oil spill up into smaller parts and that will make it easier for natural and physical processes to break it down,' said Alex Kolker, an adjunct professor at Tulane University's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. 'On the other hand, you can also bring oil that was deeper in the water, closer to the surface.'
That movement could ultimately make it harder for scientists to track the spill, because a storm could disrupt surface currents and stir up sediment. It could also determine where the oil itself goes.
'With Katrina, the variable was elevation,' Kolker said. 'Here, the variables are the winds, the tides, the currents and the shape of the coast.'
Depending on where a hurricane makes landfall, Kolker said areas on the east side of the storm would likely have the oil pushedtowards the coast. Those on the west side of the storm, though, would likely see oil pushedaway fromthe coast.