NAPLES, Fla. -- A hurricane plowing through the Gulf of Mexico is enough to put coastal cities and towns on high alert.

Throw in an oil spill that is washing ashore in Louisiana and threatening coastlines from Texas to Florida, and the start today of hurricane season looks even more foreboding.

Scientists say that while a hurricane crossing the oil spill could dilute it and break it apart, it also would spread the slick over a wider area.

Exactly where it would go is hard to predict, but it would have to go someplace, tropical storm tracker Jeff Masters said.

"If you don't already have oil, guess what, that someplace could be you," said Masters, director of meteorology at the website Weather Underground.

Oil is spewing from Deepwater Horizon's blown-out well two to five times faster than original estimates, according to scientists and oil industry experts.

Even if BP succeeds in capping the well, the oil it has dumped into the Gulf still holds the potential for a dual disaster.

Hurricane researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are planning to run simulations to test various theories about how the spill would interact with a hurricane and add the results to

future forecasts, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

future forecasts, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

The churning action of a storm would tear the slick apart, helping to speed natural evaporation and biodegradation, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Depending on the size, strength and track of a hurricane, though, oil and chemical dispersants could be mixed in with the hurricane debris cast inland by storm surge.

Because hurricanes spin counter-clockwise, a storm passing to the east of the spill could push the slick away from the Florida coast. But a storm passing to the west of the spill could send the oil toward Florida.

But Masters doesn't foresee a disaster movie scenario where oil and chemicals rain from the sky.

"I don't think you're going to be able to see it or taste it or smell it as it rains out," Masters said.

Once ashore, oil can be washed away by the right combination of storms.

In June 1979, the Ixtoc I well blew out in the Bay of Campeche off Mexico, coating 170 miles of the south Texas coast and eventually dumping 140 million gallons of oil into the Gulf before two relief wells stopped the flow nine months later.

As the oil was spewing, stormy weather caused the currents along the coast to reverse, washing oil-soaked sand south and off the beaches, said Wes Tunnell, associate director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi.

"It didn't clean the beaches, but it got a lot of oil off them," said Tunnell, who was NOAA's science coordinator in Texas for the Ixtoc spill.

But, he said, a hurricane probably wouldn't have the same relatively helpful effect on coastal marshes, such as in Louisiana, where oil would have a stronger hold.

While the slick on the top of the water is one thing, scientists also fear what could be lurking beneath the surface. The current spill is coming from the fractured well about 5,000 feet deep.

A hurricane wouldn't stir up any oil that has sunk thousands of feet below the surface, but waters hundreds of feet below the surface would get a good mixing, Masters said.

A study to be published June 10 in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, found that Hurricane Ivan in 2004 whipped up currents down to 300 feet.

A network of sensors on the Gulf floor indicated that the currents scoured the seabed and tossed up sediments that clouded the water up to 82 feet above the bottom, according to the study by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Mississippi.

The research team used computer models to estimate that storms much weaker than Ivan, a Category 4 storm, still would wreak havoc down below. They said the currents stirred up by Ivan took a week to calm back down.

The chance that the hurricane-oil-spill connection will be more than a theoretical discussion is higher than average this summer, Colorado State University forecasters say.

They are predicting a stormy season this year thanks to warming Atlantic sea surface temperatures and a waning El Nino, the Pacific Ocean phenomenon that creates wind shear that suppresses Atlantic hurricane formation.

In April, forecasters predicted 15 named storms, eight of which would be hurricanes. Of those, they predicted that three of them would reach Category 3 strength or higher, with winds of at least 111 mph.

The chance one of those storms will blow through the Gulf -- and maybe across BP's oily mess? Forecasters peg it at 44 percent.