Image: Workers remove modular house used by oil spill relief workers from a marina in Port Fourchon
Lee Celano  /  Reuters
Workers remove a modular house for oil spill relief workers from a marina in Port Fourchon, La., ahead of the arrival of Bonnie, which was downgraded to a tropical depression Friday after lashing Florida.
updated 7/24/2010 7:23:46 PM ET 2010-07-24T23:23:46

Crews hurried to get back to work on plugging BP's leaky oil well Saturday after Tropical Storm Bonnie fizzled, and engineers hoped for a window of clear weather long enough to stop the gusher for good.

But with peak hurricane season starting in early August, chances are the next big storm is right on Bonnie's heels.

"We're going to be playing a cat-and-mouse game for the remainder of the hurricane season," retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said Saturday. Sure enough, another disturbance already was brewing in the Caribbean, although forecasters said it wasn't likely to strengthen into a tropical storm.

In the past 10 years, an average of five named storms have hit the Gulf each hurricane season. This year, two have struck already — Bonnie and Hurricane Alex at the end of June, which delayed cleanup of BP's massive oil spill for a week even though it didn't get closer than 500 miles from the well.

"Usually you don't see the first hurricane statistically until Aug. 10," said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "The 2010 hurricane season is running just ahead of a typical pace."

Mid-August fix?
Bonnie fell apart Saturday before it even reached the Louisiana coast. By then, worries about the storm had pushed back efforts to solidly seal the well by at least a week, said Allen, the government's point man on the spill and a veteran of the Coast Guard's rescue mission after Hurricane Katrina.

Completion now looks possible by mid-August, but Allen said he wouldn't hesitate to order another evacuation based on forecasts similar to the ones for Bonnie, which halted work on Wednesday.

"We have no choice but to start well ahead of time if we think the storm track is going to bring gale force winds, which are 39 mph or above, anywhere close to well site," Allen said.

Hurricane season lasts until Nov. 30.

Even though the evacuation turned out to be short-lived, it revealed one important fact: BP and the federal government are increasingly sure that the temporary plug that has mostly contained the oil for eight days will hold.

They didn't loosen the cap even when they thought they'd lose sight of it during the evacuation, although in the end, the real-time cameras that have given the world a constant view of the ruptured well apparently never stopped rolling.

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Ironically, the storm may even have a positive effect. Churning waters could actually help dissipate oil in the water, spreading out the surface slick and breaking up tar balls, said Jane Lubchenco, leader of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Beaches may look cleaner in some areas as the storm surge pulls oil away, though other areas could see more oil washed ashore.

"I think the bottom line is, it's better than it might have been," Lubchenco said.

Heavy rain and frequent lightening interrupted a benefit concert on the tiny resort island of Grand Isle off the southeast Louisiana coast, sending those attending scrambling for the limited space under tents set up on the beach.

But the rain didn't seem to bother all of the thousands attending the event, which raised money to benefit civic projects on the island with performers including LeAnn Rimes and Three Dog Night. Some wrapped themselves in plastic, putting grocery bags on their heads and dancing throughout the storms.

"On a day like this, a little rain feels very good," said Doug Matheson, 45, from New Orleans.

Redoing relief well work
Still, the rough weather hurt the operation to kill the well. Work on the relief well stopped Wednesday, and it will take time to restart.

The rig drilling the relief well that will blast mud into the broken well to permanently seal it started steaming back toward the well 40 miles off the Louisiana coast on Saturday morning.

Workers who spent Thursday and Friday pulling nearly a mile of segmented steel pipe out of the water and stacking the 40-to-50 foot sections on deck will now have to reverse the process. It will likely be Monday before BP can resume drilling.

By Wednesday, workers should finish installing steel casing to fortify the relief shaft, Allen said, and by Friday, crews plan to start blasting in heavy mud and cement through the mechanical cap, the first phase of a two-step process to seal the well for good. BP will then finish drilling the relief well — which could take up to a week — to pump in more mud and cement from nearly two miles under the sea floor.

But the clear weather may not hold that long, said Joe Bastardi, Accuweather's chief meteorologist of State College, Pa.

"From what I'm seeing in the tropics, it's like a pot boiling and the lid's going to blow off," Bastardi said.

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Video: Back to work in Gulf as Bonnie fades

  1. Transcript of: Back to work in Gulf as Bonnie fades

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: There are few parts of this country tonight where people are not talking about the weather; from oppressive, even crippling heat, to severe flooding, to that dud of a tropical storm that still managed to set back oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico . Tonight ships and work crews that were forced to evacuate just a few days ago are returning to the site of the oil disaster now that that storm, Bonnie , has run out of steam. But the disruption has cost them an estimated seven to nine critical days in the race to kill the oil well . We're covering all the weather fronts tonight and their impacts, starting along the Gulf of Mexico with NBC 's Charles Hadlock in Venice , Louisiana . Charles , good evening.

    CHARLES HADLOCK reporting: Good evening, Lester . The -- what's left of Tropical Storm Bonnie is having little impact on the Gulf Coast tonight, just a few passing showers. But the threat that Bonnie could have been an even larger storm has been the biggest obstacle and the postponement so far in the 96-day effort to end the crisis. As Bonnie washed out over south Louisiana , the Coast Guard ordered BP to return its idled ships to the Deepwater Horizon site as quickly as possible. The move was welcome news for workers stuck in port.

    Mr. ROMOND BLANKS (Oil Cleanup Worker): This tropical storm is not a big factor, so I think that we should go on back out and work hard as we can and try to get this resolved as soon as possible.

    HADLOCK: Bonnie was making a beeline for the oil leak when the storm fell apart.

    MIKE SEIDEL reporting: The tropical storm really never had a fighting chance. It was dealing with a lot of wind aloft. Tropical systems, storms and hurricanes, do not like strong winds aloft, what we call wind shear .

    HADLOCK: Almost all of the ships evacuated the rig site ahead of the storm, except for ones providing live pictures of BP 's new containment cap, which has been holding back the flow of oil now for nine days.

    Admiral THAD ALLEN (National Incident Commander): This is very good news because we left the cap in place and were able to contain any oil going into the environment.

    HADLOCK: Before Bonnie chased them away, workers were about to perform a static kill, the first step in a 10-day process to permanently seal the well. The frustration is felt by everybody, even those onshore.

    Unidentified Woman: They finally got things rolling where they could get things accomplished out there, and this is just going to delay it.

    HADLOCK: Gulf Coast residents are trying to avoid another delay in protecting the beaches. NBC 's Mark Potter is in Mississippi .

    MARK POTTER reporting: Along the beaches of Mississippi , Alabama and Florida , residents are breathing a sigh of relief. They, too, avoided a major storm. And officials here are urging BP and the federal government to quickly put back all the cleanup equipment and boom they removed from these beaches fearing a storm.

    HADLOCK: Given the region's sad history of storms like Katrina and Camille , few are complaining about the decision to play it safe.

    Unidentified Man: I think they were smart to pull those guys out of there because you never can tell what's going to happen with one of those things.

    HADLOCK: Most vessels will be back on site by Monday. The Coast Guard says the process to permanently seal the well could begin as early as

Interactive: Hurricane tracker

Photos: Month 4

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  1. The Blue Dolphin, left, and the HOS Centerline, the ships supplying the mud for the static kill operation on the Helix Q4000, are seen delivering mud through hoses at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. In the background is the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Eddie Forsythe and Don Rorabough dump a box of blue crabs onto a sorting table at B.K. Seafood in Yscloskey, La., on Aug. 3, 2010. The crabs were caught by fisherman Garet Mones. Commercial and recreational fishing has resumed, with some restrictions in areas that were closed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Chuck Cook / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sea turtle hatchlings that emerged from eggs gathered on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida are released at Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2010. The sea turtles were born at a Kennedy Space Center incubation site, where thousands of eggs collected from Florida and Alabama beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been sent. (Craig Rubadoux / Florida Today via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2010. BP is testing the well to see if it can withstand a "static kill" which would close the well permanently. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A boat motors through a sunset oil sheen off East Grand Terre Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay on the La. coast, on the evening of July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oil approaches a line of barges and boom positioned to protect East Grand Terre Island, partially seen at top right, on July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen near an unprotected island in the Gulf of Mexico near Timbalier Bay, off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday, July 28. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Greenpeace activists stand outside a BP gas station in London, England, on July 27 after they put up a fence to cut off access. Several dozen BP stations in London were temporarily shut down to protest the Gulf spill. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Wilson sells T-shirts to those arriving in Grand Isle, La., for the music festival Island Aid 2010 on July 24. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Activists covered in food coloring made to look like oil protest BP's Gulf oil spill in Mexico City on July 22. The sign at far left reads in Spanish "Petroleum kills animals." (Alexandre Meneghini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People in Lafayette, La., wear "Keep Drilling" tee shirts at the "Rally for Economic Survival" opposing the federal ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, July 21. Supporters at the rally want President Obama to lift the moratorium immediately to protect Louisiana's jobs and economy. (Ann Heisenfelt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A flock of white ibis lift off from marsh grass on Dry Bread Island in St. Bernard Parish, La., July 21. Crews found about 130 dead birds and 15 live birds affected by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 19 in the eastern part of the parish behind the Chandeleur Islands. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the BP Oil Spill Victim Compensation Fund testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was to examine the claim process for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An American white pelican has its wings checked during a physical examination at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital by Michael Adkesson and Michael O’Neill on July 21. The bird, along with four other pelicans, was rescued from the Gulf Coast oil spill and will be placed on permanent exhibit at the zoo. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Native people of the Gwich'in Nation form a human banner on the banks of the Porcupine River near Ft. Yukon, Alaska July 21, in regard to the BP oil spill with a message to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. The images include a Porcupine caribou antler and a threatened Yukon River Salmon. (Camila Roy / Spectral Q via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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