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If a hurricane encounters the oil slick now covering parts of the Gulf of Mexico, the result could be devastating, scientists say. Not only could any hurricane increase the damage that oil does to coastal wetlands, but the presence of oil could lead to a more powerful hurricane, they say. Nobody knows for sure, though, because there's no record of a hurricane ever crossing paths with a large oil spill.
"You have this black surface, and it's doing two things," Emanuel says. "First of all it's absorbing sunlight. And secondly, it is curtailing evaporation from the Gulf." Evaporation normally helps cool the Gulf waters, Emanuel says. "So theoretically, the Gulf underneath this oil slick should be getting hotter than it normally would be." And hotter water helps create more powerful hurricanes. It's hard to know if the water is actually getting hotter, though, because oil prevents satellites from taking accurate temperature readings.
The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1, and scientists are predicting 15 named storms and eight full-blown hurricanes