Tropical Storm Dolly has grown into a category one hurricane as it heads towards the US-Mexican border, forcing the evacuation of thousands in Mexico while the US Navy sheltered aircraft.
With sustained 120km/h winds, the second hurricane of the season was about 265km southeast of the Texas border town of Brownsville, the US National Hurricane Center said on today.
The storm was moving northwest at 16km/h, in its latest update at 2100 GMT (0700 AEST Wednesday).
National Hurricane Center director Bill Read warned that the hurricane was expected to make landfall “in the early morning hours” of tomorrow (from around midnight Wednesday, AEST).
“They’ll have adverse weather from now on in,” Read said on CNN.
“It’s not going to be a picnic on Padre Island,” he added, referring to the long, narrow barrier island along the Texas coast that is dotted with resorts.
A category one storm is the lowest rating in the five level Saffir-Simpson scale, but the center predicted 150mm to 250mm of rain over south Texas and northeast Mexico in the coming days.
Isolated areas were expected to see as many as 380 mm of rain along with massive waves and flooding at the point of impact, the NHC said.
“Coastal storm surge flooding of four to six feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) above normal tide levels along with large and dangerous battering waves can be expected near and to the north of where the center makes landfall.”
The hurricane led to the evacuation of more than 23,000 people from coastal areas in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, Governor Eugenio Hernandez said.
The US Navy ordered more than 100 aircraft moved inland from air stations along the Texas coast.
Some, but not all, oil drilling companies evacuated personnel from their offshore rigs as companies waited to see where the storm would make landfall, the Houston Chronicle reported.
World oil prices have crept up slightly, on fears that the storm could disrupt oil or gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.
US energy major ExxonMobil has started evacuating “non-essential” personnel from some offshore oil production facilities expected to be in Dolly’s path, but the company said there had been limited impact on production thus far.
Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell have also moved non-essential staff from their operations in the western part of the Gulf of Mexico.
“The first storm in always gets the adrenaline pumping, and it helps bring everybody into the mindset for hurricane season,” said BP spokesman Tom Mueller, quoted by the Houston Chronicle.
BP has not evacuated workers nor halted production in the Gulf, the report said.
Around one quarter of US domestic crude production and 15 percent of natural gas output comes from the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Minerals Management Service.
Texas Governor Rick Perry activated 1,200 National Guard troops and other emergency crews in advance of the storm, US media reported.