Irma makes her presence felt, Florida braces for direct hit

The projected path of Irma as of Saturday afternoon. (Photo: National Hurricane Center)

The projected path of Irma as of Saturday afternoon. (Photo: National Hurricane Center)

Logistics, fuel supplies likely to be impacted for days

As Hurricane Irma prepared to hit Florida late Saturday night, the track of the storm has finally been nailed down. The initial forecasts called for a direct hit on Florida, but it ranged anywhere from the Gulf side to the Atlantic side. It turns out, the Gulf side of Florida was the unlucky recipient, specifically the Fort Myers, Naples and Tampa Bay metro area, although the sheer size of the storm is going to leave destruction and across all of Florida.

With Irma’s shift west late Friday, there is now some certainty that the storm will move up through Georgia and possible South Carolina. On Monday, perhaps still as a hurricane, according to the latest Watchtower Alert from supply chain risk analysis firm Riskpulse. Alabama and Tennessee may also be affected due to Irma's size and exact track, the National Hurricane Center said.

Riskpulse said storm surges of 5-10 feet are likely along the southern and eastern coasts with 10 to 15 surges in southwestern Florida. Power outages on both coasts will likely be widespread, and could last days or weeks. That could make the job of moving in supplies to restock stores slow as many will not have power to reopen.

After it moves through Florida, Riskpulse notes that “it appears that the Savannah and Charleston metro areas will still be impacted by Irma, although significantly less so than in previous forecasts. These impacts are still expected to occur during the day on Monday, and hurricane-force winds appear less likely than before, and are now unlikely in the Charleston area.”

Power outages are possible in southern Georgia as strong winds will arrive with the storm on Monday. Farther north in Georgia, sustained winds of 35 to 40 mph and gusts to 50 are likely. Later on Monday and into Tuesday, Irma is expected to move into Alabama and western Tennessee by midday Tuesday and into Wednesday. What Irma's size and strength will be at that point is uncertain.

The impact on trucking and logistics in the area is likely to be severe, although it may be Monday before any initial assessment can be done and damage is surveyed. The combination of heavy rain, flooding, storm surge and the powerful Category 3 hurricane’s winds could devastate roadways and topple electrical poles and lines, making travel nearly impossible in the days immediately following the storm. There is also likely to be significant congestion on the roads as some 700,000 people who evacuated the state return home.

On the fuel side, there were reports of fuel shortages in Florida, and that is likely to continue following the storm. Florida, Breakthrough Fuel explained, receives much of its refined fuel products from its ports, which are closed and in many cases, have not received ships for several days. Transporting fuel into the area is possible, but the Southeast has seen lower supply in fuel in recent weeks as pipelines and refineries in the Houston area slowly work their way back to full capacity.

“The Southeastern US is clearly showing the largest price impact, with state average pricing exceeding 10¢/gallon movement beyond the significant movements at a national level,” Breakthrough Fuel said in an Advisor Pulse note to customers. “The cost premium experienced in this region is directly related to the reduced amount of product supply, as the refinery outages … led to lower flow rates on the Colonial Pipeline system – the main means of product distribution for the region.”

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight has covered the U.S. trucking and transportation community for more than 10 years, winning numerous regional and national editorial awards, including a Jesse. H. Neal Award. Prior to working on FreightWaves, Brian spent 10 years at industry trade magazine Fleet Owner, and prior to that managed daily newspaper editorial operations.