All eyes along the Gulf of Mexico turned to the wind and waves churning in the Caribbean on Saturday, an ominous sign the 2010 hurricane season - expected to be one of the worst ever - has arrived.
Tropical Storm Alex was gathering strength in the western Caribbean, and forecasters said it was unclear if it would hit the massive oil spill in the Gulf.
The storm could cripple cleanup efforts, spread the BP oil slick throughout Gulf and spray the sludge miles inland.
Most storm models show Alex traveling over the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico over the weekend, hurricane forecaster Jack Bevens said.
He said it was too soon to know if the storm will pass over the oiled Gulf, though for now it's not expected to hit the spill. Storm predictions can quickly change as conditions shift.
"We're watching the hurricane season very, very closely," said U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the response.
Allen said officials are working with BP to come up with plans for disconnecting siphoning equipment and evacuating the cleanup area when a storm looms.
"We're going to have to look at the tracks of these storms, look at the probabilities, and have to act very early on," he said.
The prospect of big storms blowing the slick around may not be all bad: it could also mix and "weather" the oil - helping it break down faster, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
If a storm passes to the east of the slick, it could even help push the oil away from the fragile coastline.
But a hurricane in the Gulf might also bring some of the vast amounts of oil that is now lurking in great underwater plumes up to the surface, and then blow it onto beaches and marshes.
The absolute worst-case scenario: a hurricane takes out the two relief wells that BP is counting on to finally stop the geyser of oil sometime in August.
Hurricane season began June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
The peak period for big storms is between August and October, but storms in June and July have a far greater likelihood of steering into the Gulf, as opposed to riding up the Atlantic coast.
NOAA scientists say they are almost certain 2010 will be a bad one, posting 85% odds of more storms than normal - and only a 10% chance of a near-normal season. NOAA expects 8 to 14 Atlantic hurricanes this year. There were only three last year.
"This season could be one of the more active on record," said NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco.
AccuWeather chief meteorologist Joe Bastardi predicts the season will bring 18 to 21 named storms, which have winds greater than 40 mph, and thinks at least six of them will grow into hurricanes, with winds topping 75 mph.
At least two hurricanes and one tropical storm will move through the oil spill by the end of the season, he predicted.