MIAMI - Tropical Storm Debby formed in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, interfering with oil and gas production and putting officials on alert for flooding and strong winds from southern Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle.
Debby was about 220 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (80 kph).
It was the first time four tropical storms have been recorded before July 1 during the Atlantic hurricane season since record keeping began in 1851.
The storm was moving north at 6 mph (10 kph). The center of Debby is expected to linger over the northern Gulf during the next few days, with no landfall in the immediate forecast.
Debby is expected to bring up to six inches of rain along the coast, with isolated amounts of 10 inches.
A tropical storm warning has been issued for part of the Louisiana coast. Officials there have been monitoring the weather closely for the last several days.
Some low-lying areas close to the Louisiana coast flood easily in rough weather.
"We've already seen higher tides than usual," said Angela Rains, manager of the Terrebonne Levee District.
Debby forced the suspension of 8 percent of the region's oil and gas production.
The government reported Saturday that nine production platforms and one drilling rig were evacuated. The suspended crude production amounts to about 2 percent of U.S production and about 0.1 percent of global production. The reduced production is not expected to impact oil prices unless the storm strengthens and forces more production platforms to close.
Anadarko Petroleum has removed all non-essential personnel and expects to close four facilities in the central and eastern Gulf by Saturday. Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and Marathon Oil said non-essential personnel are being removed but production is not being affected. ExxonMobil reports that its operations are unaffected.
Alberto was the first storm this year. It formed off the South Carolina coast on May 19, almost two weeks before the hurricane season officially began June 1.
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