June 19, 2013
Ernesto weakens over southern Mexico, churns toward Gulf
Tropical storm Ernesto weakened as it dumped heavy rains over Mexico's southern Yucatan peninsula and headed toward the Gulf of Mexico, where the country's main oil operations are located.
A hurricane warning for Mexico's western Gulf coast was called off earlier on Wednesday and replaced with a lower-grade hurricane watch as the storm lost strength over land, although its top wind speed rose later in the day.
The storm spared major tourist areas on the Yucatan coast from a direct hit and landed in sparsely populated low-lying jungle late on Tuesday. It made land as a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, and was downgraded to a tropical storm early on Wednesday.
The US National Hurricane Center in Miami said in its 8 pm EDT (2400 GMT) advisory that later on Wednesday and early Thursday the center of the storm was set to move over the extreme southern Bay of Campeche, where state oil company Pemex has port facilities and offshore platforms.
At that time, the storm was located 20 miles east-northeast of Ciudad del Carmen in the state of Campeche. Hurricane conditions were possible again by Thursday as the storm approaches the Gulf coast, the center said.
Mexico closed its three major oil Gulf of Mexico export ports - Coatzacoalcos, Cayo Arcas and Dos Bocas, port authorities said.
Almost all of Mexico's crude oil exports are shipped to refineries on the Gulf Coast of the United States from the three ports.
"The prognosis is to be operational again on Thursday," said Dos Bocas official Guadalupe Perez. "But we don't know when it will open. It depends on the size of the waves."
The storm looked set to sweep the Minatitlan refinery, which processes 185,000 barrels per day.