TAMPA — The first tropical depression of the 2010 hurricane season was upgraded to Tropical Storm Alex early Saturday.
According to a 5 a.m. National Weather Service advisory, Alex had gained strength and was moving west-northwestward toward Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula.
By 7 a.m., Alex was about 200 miles east of Belize City with maximum sustained winds at 40 mph. The storm, moving at about 8 mph, is expected to reach the coast by Saturday night or Sunday morning.
The coast of Belize, the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula from Chetumal to Cancun, and the Honduran islands of Roatan, Guanaja and Utila remain under a tropical storm warning. That means tropical storm conditions are expected there within 36 hours.
A tropical storm watch is in effect from the coast of Honduras westward to the border of Honduras and Guatemala.
It is still too early to tell exactly where Tropical Storm Alex might go, or how it might affect oil on and below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters said.
Jack Bevins, a National Hurricane Center forecaster, said prediction models early Saturday no longer show Alex going across the oil spill. But that track could quickly change in the coming days as conditions shift.
The effort to capture the oil gushing from the sea bottom could be interrupted for up to two weeks if a storm forces BP to move its equipment out of harm's way, said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man on the crisis.
BP would need about five days to secure or move all its equipment to safety from an approaching storm but is working to shorten that to two days, said said BP spokesman Bill Salvin. The equipment includes ships that are processing the oil sucked up by the containment cap on the well and the rigs drilling the two relief wells.
Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3386.
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