NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hurricane Dean, which could strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane over the next few days, will likely cross the islands of the eastern Caribbean on Friday and could threaten the Gulf of Mexico next week.
Meanwhile, Tropical Depression Erin produced heavy rains over portions of Texas as it weakened after moving inland over the south Texas coast this morning.
The energy market is watching the weather models to see if Dean will enter the Gulf of Mexico and where it could disrupt the region's oil and natural gas facilities, which account for roughly a third of U.S. oil production.
The NHC issued hurricane warnings for the Lesser Antilles islands of Dominica and St Lucia. A hurricane warning means the NHC expects a hurricane to strike the warning area within 24 hours.
At 11 a.m. EDT, the center of Dean was located about 350 miles east of Barbados and about 455 miles east of Martinique.
Dean was moving quickly toward the west at near 23 miles per hour. This would put the center of the hurricane near the Lesser Antilles, which extend south from the Virgin Islands to Trinidad and Tobago, on Friday morning.
Dean is packing maximum sustained winds near 90 mph, making it a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
The NHC forecast Dean will strengthen into a Category 2 hurricane (winds 96-110 mph) within 12 hours, a Category 3 hurricane (winds 111-130 mph) in about 24 hours and a Category 4 hurricane (winds of 131-155 mph) in three to four days.
In five days however, the NHC expects the storm to weaken back to Category 1 strength (winds 74-95 mph) after moving inland over the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
The seven major weather models were mixed on Dean's forecast track. Two show Dean in the Gulf of Mexico in five days. Three, including the NHC model, show Dean in the Yucatan in five days. Two show Dean in Belize or Honduras in five days.
The weather models only look out about five days. Beyond that, the forecasters say it is too soon to say whether the storm, which is still in the Atlantic Ocean, will enter the Gulf of Mexico.
If the storm crosses the Yucatan and enters the southern Gulf of Mexico, it might disrupt operations in the Cantarell Complex of Mexican oil fields beneath the Bay of Campeche in addition to the U.S. facilities in the northern Gulf.
The Cantarell Complex is one of the most productive oil fields in the world, supplying about two thirds of Mexico's crude oil output.
The NHC will issue another advisory on Dean at 2 p.m.
Erin made landfall near Lamar, Texas and weakened to a tropical depression Thursday morning.
The center of Erin was located about 55 miles north-northwest of Corpus Christi, the NHC said in an advisory released before 11 a.m.
The depression was moving northwest at near 15 mph, while its maximum sustained winds declined to 35 mph.
The NHC said it would not issue additional advisories on Erin.
UPDATE: On Tropical Storm Erin
ERIN CROSSED THE TEXAS COAST NEAR LAMAR AND IS NOW MOVING FATHER
INLAND. SATELLITE IMAGES AND RADAR DATA SHOWS THAT THE DEPRESSION
STILL HAS A LARGE AREA OF RAIN WHICH IS THE MAIN THREAT AT THIS
TIME. THE DEPRESSION IS FORECAST TO MOVE TOWARD THE NORTHWEST AT
ABOUT 13 KNOTS UNTIL DISSIPATION.