Responders to the Galveston Bay oil spill will be facing some rough water by Wednesday. A shift in our weather pattern is coming and will complicate the clean-up efforts.
"We are using this operational period, the next 24 hours, as our day of opportunity to recover as much oil out of the environment as we can before weather changes potentially inhibit our ability to move oil directly from the environment," said Capt. Brian Penoyer of the U.S. Coast Guard Houston/Galveston.
Penoyer is also the Federal on-scene Coordinator for the oil spill.
Winds are expected to climb to 25 to 30 mph Wednesday afternoon. This will create choppy waters which make it extremely difficult to get the oil out of the water.
"You literally have to a flat sea to vacuum or remove that oil from the water," explained Scott Smith, Chief Scientist for Water Defense. "The wind creates the chop and then you can't get the oil out quickly with these older technologies. Then you take the risk of it spreading like it's doing now."
And the oil is spreading. Since seeping out of Galveston Bay, the oil has made it to the long shore current that runs along the coast line.
"Our prediction is the oil that got out of Galveston Bay is going to be caught up in that coastal current and be carried to the West," said Doug Helton, NOAA Incident Operations Coordinator.
NOAA is serving as the scientific support for the oil spill recovery efforts.
They run a computer model that can predict where the oil is heading by using data from the National Weather Service and buoys.
"It is a combination of winds and currents," said Helton. "Particuraly wind speed and wind direction have a big factor on the behavior of the oil."
According to Tuesday's model run, the oil is expected to reach Freeport -- "our predictions so far have been pretty accurate."
Weather Changes Will Help Oil Reach The Texas Coast
The oil that has made it's way out of the bay is being transported by a coastal current. However, with winds coming in from the Southeast by tomorrow, you may see tar balls or tar mats on beaches along the Texas Coast.
"Because of the weather, it is now going to impact a much wider area," said Smith. "I mean this could mean now hundreds of miles of shoreline along the Texas coast."
According to the Helton, there is also the possibility of a tub ring effect on the beach. By tub ring, they mean when the water rushes up, it brings the oil -- like with seaweed or other debris -- and deposits it on the sand as the water rushes back out.
"At that point, it would have been 4 or 5 days after the spill, so the oil would have been adrift and broken apart in waves and currents so it won't be a big continuous slick," said Helton. "It is going to be more patches of oil."
Once the winds do pick up and shift out of the East and Southeast, it won't take long for the oil to start appearing on the coast.
"When you have product 8 to 10 miles out, it is going to be quickly coming to shore," said Richard Arnhart of Texas General Land Office.
Cleaning up the oil from the sand will be just as hard as getting it out of the water.
"With this heavy, sticky oil you are talking about a permanent impact that you really can't remove without destroying the environment," said Smith.