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Florida ports and railroads eye Hurricane Ian

Storm forecast to hit central Florida midweek

Tampa Bay, Florida. (Photo: Shutterstock/Real Window Creative)

The ports along Florida’s Gulf-facing coastline and eastern U.S. freight railroads are taking steps to safeguard their operations ahead of Hurricane Ian, which is expected to reach west central Florida sometime midweek.

SeaPort Manatee said Tuesday that the Coast Guard declared port condition Zulu for the region, meaning that gale-force winds of 34 to 47 knots are possible within the next 12 hours due to Hurricane Ian approaching Florida. 

All water and landside cargo operations have ceased at the port, although the port remains open to truck traffic and other necessary movements.

Port Tampa Bay has initiated its comprehensive emergency management plan, and it has been receiving daily briefings from the National Weather Service since Friday. The port has begun to secure waterfront facilities and dock areas. 

“Port Tampa Bay is coordinating closely with federal, state and local agencies, as well as the maritime community to prepare for and respond to potential impacts of Hurricane Ian,” Port Tampa Bay said in a Sunday notice. “As always, the Port’s priorities are safety of life, protection of the environment, and maritime commence resiliency.”

The Port Heavy Weather Advisory Group, which consists of local maritime entities, has also been activated, and the group will work with the U.S. Coast Guard to monitor potential impacts to Port Tampa Bay and the waterways. It has created queuing for vessels that weigh 500 gross tons and above to depart Tampa Bay ahead of the hurricane. 

The Coast Guard has extended Hurricane Port Condition Whiskey through Monday afternoon at Jaxport in Northeast Florida along the Atlantic Coast. Under port condition whiskey, ports and other facilities remain open for commercial operations. 

Officials for Jacksonville, Florida-based Crowley Maritime, which operates a terminal at Jaxport, said they are closely monitoring new developments with Hurricane Ian.

“Right now we’re monitoring the National Weather Service and we are adjusting what we’re doing here at the port based on what the wind profiles are looking like,” Scott Hess, senior director of health, safety, security, environment and sustainability at Crowley Maritime, told FreightWaves. “We’re going through our normal storm preps just as if something was coming up the Atlantic, if it crosses out of the Gulf of Mexico, we approach it in the very same way.”

CSX (NASDAQ: CSX) is keeping its eye on the storm, spokesperson Sheriee Bowman told FreightWaves.

“CSX is closely monitoring Hurricane Ian as it advances toward the Gulf Coast. Precautionary measures for protecting employees, rail traffic and infrastructure are being taken ahead of the expected arrival of the storm,” Bowman said. 

CSX will post customer advisory updates on its website, she said.

In a Friday service bulletin, CSX said it would continue to track the storm as it evolves, telling customers to monitor customer advisories and intermodal-specific real-time service advisories for information on potential impacts.

Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC) told FreightWaves late Monday that it is also keeping track of Hurricane Ian.

“Currently there are no impacted service areas, and all Norfolk Southern intermodal facilities are operating as scheduled. Norfolk Southern will continue to closely monitor Ian and provide updates as the storm progresses,” NS said.

“The current trajectory has the storm potentially impacting the southeast portion of the NS network with the corridor between Atlanta and Jacksonville, as well as routes to/from the southeast ports being affected significantly,” NS said.

FreightWaves reporter Noi Mahoney contributed to this report.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.