Could tar balls hit western Bahamas Beaches?

AccuWeather.com reports pieces of the Gulf oil slick are breaking off and beginning to enter the loop current, possibly propelling tar balls towards beaches in the Bahamas and South Florida over the next several weeks.

Freeport and Grand Bahama Island, even Nassau, could be impacted by drifting oil pieces caught in the Gulf Stream current, which flows around the tip of Florida and passes along the western end of the Bahamas.

Assuming oil continues to spew from the broken well, AccuWeather.com meteorologists and various models suggest oil slick pieces cutting under the Florida Keys and heading towards Florida’s east coast by early next week.

Meteorologists foresee oil passing under Key West, Fla., possibly washing upon shores in Miami, and then heading north to Freeport, Bahamas.

A trajectory could also place oil pieces farther south, interacting with beaches along Havana, Cuba, then swinging wide through Grand Bahama Island.Currents Carry Tar Balls

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The loop current exists as part of the Gulf Stream, which flows north between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula, and continues to flow north into the Gulf of Mexico before looping to the south and then east through the Florida Straits.

The danger of oil becoming wrapped in the loop current is the current’s Gulf Stream direction, which could carry oil, mostly in the form of tar balls, swiftly up the Atlantic Seaboard.

The Associated Press reported that a cap placed on the broken well last week is currently channeling more than half of escaping oil to a surface ship.

Upcoming Weather Conditions
The weather in the Gulf will remain warm and humid, with a shift in winds from the north-northeast earlier this week to a continuous southerly flow through the week’s end. This wind shift brings a renewed threat for tar balls showing up along Florida Panhandle beaches.

Southerly winds will be light and waves’ heights are expected to be 1-2 feet on Wednesday.

There were reports of tar balls washing up on Pensacola, Fla., beaches as early as last Friday morning.

What do the probabilities mean?
Below is a table that provides the probability of oil reaching specific locations. We will continue to make updates to the table as weather conditions and oil containment efforts develop.

For example, at Galveston Island during the next 30 days, there is a 10% chance of oil impacting coastal areas within that time period.

Over the next 120 days, there is a 35% chance of impact.

Please note, while the probabilities do take into account the AccuWeather.com Hurricane Forecast, the probabilities can change dramatically based on the strength and path of a hurricane moving through the Gulf of Mexico.