June 12, 2006

Tropical Storm Alberto strengthens in eastern Gulf

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tropical Storm Alberto, the 2006
hurricane season's first named storm, strengthened early Monday
as it moved over the warm waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico,
making its way toward the northern Florida coast, the National
Hurricane Center in Miami said.

NHC issued a hurricane warning for the Gulf Coast of
Florida from Longboat Key to the Ochlockonee River, meaning
hurricane conditions were expected within the warning area in
the next 24 hours.

Alberto was moving toward the north-northwest at about 7
miles per hour, with winds strengthening to near 70 mph.
Further wind speed gains were possible and the storm could
become the season's first hurricane within the next 24 hours.

Alberto formed near Cuba over the weekend and was now
located about 190 miles south-southwest of Apalachicola,
Florida, and about 220 miles southwest of Cedar Key.

NHC's storm track has Alberto making landfall in northern
Florida near Tallahassee sometime late Tuesday morning. Other
computer models show the track ranging from the far western
Florida panhandle to the north-central Gulf Coast of Florida.

Energy traders said the projected path of the storm should
take it too far east to cause any major disruptions or damage
to offshore oil and gas production.

The bulk of energy operations in the region, which provides
about 25 percent of total U.S. oil and natural gas supply, is
concentrated off the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

Last year, hurricanes temporarily knocked out all of the
region's crude production and about 90 percent of natgas
output, and helped drive energy prices to record highs.

As of this spring, about 15 percent of the Gulf of Mexico's
1.5 million bpd of crude oil production remained shut from the
record 2005 storm season, along with 11 percent of the region's
10 billion cubic feet of daily natural gas production.

Forecasters have said the 2006 hurricane season will
probably not match 2005's record of 28 named storms, but will
likely be more active than average, and the energy industry has
been scrambling to harden its infrastructure.