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Gulf Coast Faces First Tropical Weather Test

Last updated at 7:28 p.m. ET

The first tropical depression of the Atlantic 2010 hurricane season has formed in the Western Caribbean, but it is unclear if it will pass over the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Friday that the depression has winds of about 35 mph.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. The peninsula separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico. The warning is in effect in Mexico from Chetumal north to Cancun.

The depression is on track to reach the peninsula by late Saturday. It is about 345 miles east-southeast of Chemtumal.

BP would need about five days to move all of its equipment out of harm's way if a storm threatens, BP spokesman Bill Salvin said. So far, the company hasn't started that process.

The problem, explains CBS "Early Show" weather anchor Dave Price is that projecting five days out is incredibly difficult.

"Forecasters are very good at predicting weather in 24-hour increments. The farther out you go, the more challenging it becomes to pinpoint and this is the perfect storm. It pits forecast accuracy versus the need to make go and no-go decisions," Price said. "The error rate five days out is 600 miles wide, and that's the difference between New Orleans and Miami."

In addition to forcing cleanup crews off and delay drilling of the relief wells, there are fears that hurricane-driven rains could be black with oil, reports CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella

"If a hurricane comes screaming through here, this is going to make a disaster movie look like a rehearsal," said Robert Bea, an engineering professor at UC Berkeley.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

The equipment to be secured would include ships working to process oil being sucked to the surface from a containment device and the rigs drilling the two relief wells.

Tests show BP is on target for mid-August completion of a relief well in the Gulf of Mexico, the best hope of stopping the oil that's been gushing since April, the company said Friday.

The first well, started May 2, reached a depth of 16,275 feet on Wednesday before workers paused for the first test known as a ranging run. Although the first relief well is only 200 feet laterally from the original well, the crew still has to drill around 3,000 feet deeper before it can intercept the original well, according to Salvin.

"We have to hit a target essentially nine inches in diameter," he said.

The second relief well, started on May 16, has reached a depth of 10,500 feet.

Worst-case government estimates say about 2.5 million gallons are leaking from the well, though no one really knows for sure.

August seems a long way off to many dealing with the fallout that includes oil washing up on beaches and creeping into delicate wetlands.

Along Pensacola Beach in Florida, part of which was closed Thursday, lifeguard Collin Cobia wore a red handkerchief over his nose and mouth to block the oil smell. "It's enough to knock you down," he said.

Others weren't happy about the situation but declined to second-guess the BP engineers.

"I have no clue at all about the correct way to stop it," said Rocky Ditcharo, a seafood dock owner in Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish. "'Powerless' - that's a good word for it."

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