MIAMI — Tropical Storm Opal moved into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday and was expected to strengthen into a hurricane before striking land again, forecasters said.
Opal, the 15th named storm of this year's unusually busy hurricane season, had winds of 50 m.p.h. and was virtually stationary throughout Sunday afternoon. The storm dumped more than 10 inches of rain on some areas, according to the National Hurricane Center.
At 2 p.m. PDT, the storm was centered about 135 miles west of Merida, Mexico, but its band of heavy showers extended for 175 miles.
Opal was expected to reorganize itself and muster 74 m.p.h. hurricane-force winds today, the National Hurricane Center said. The center of the storm emerged Sunday in the Bay of Campeche after spending two days over land as it crossed Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Forecasters expect Opal to take a northern turn, which could threaten the Texas or Louisiana coasts later in the week.
Tropical storm warnings were posted along much of the Yucatan, including the popular resort areas of Cozumel and Cancun. A coastal flood watch was issued from Brownsville, Tex., to Bay St. Louis, La.
Workers on oil and gas platforms throughout the Gulf were evacuated and production was stopped.
"As of [Sunday] afternoon, we should have all non-essential workers off the platforms," said Shell Oil Co. spokesman Billy Vehnekamp. "We're in the process of working down to skeleton crews."
Natural gas producers have already shut down 500 million cubic feet per day of gas production as a precaution ahead of the storm's arrival.