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South Florida ports watching for potential Eta landfall (with forecast video)

Updated Thursday afternoon for additional port restrictions.

South Florida ports are on the lookout for a possible late-season tropical storm landfall next week. Container ships may be restricted from leaving or entering as the storm closes in.

Hurricane Eta made landfall Tuesday in Nicaragua as a devastating Category 4 storm, producing disastrous flooding and wind damage across many portions of Central America. At least one person died because of the hurricane.

As of Thursday morning, Eta was a tropical depression with winds of only 30 mph. However, there’s still a threat of heavy rainfall and flooding in Guatemala and Belize before Eta moves back into the Caribbean Sea Friday.

Eta could get stronger at that point, returning to tropical storm status before crossing western Cuba Sunday, followed by a possible direct hit in southern Florida Monday or Tuesday.

In a press release Wednesday evening, the Coast Guard has set port condition Whiskey for the Port of Key West, which consists of three docking facilities. This was done due to the expectation of sustained gale force winds of 25 mph and gusts up to 40 mph that may arrive within 72 hours. These facilities are currently open to all commercial traffic, and all transfer operations may continue while Whiskey remains in effect.

Sustained winds between 39 and 54 mph are possible within 72 hours, and ports are safest when the inventory of vessels is at a minimum. All oceangoing commercial vessels and oceangoing barges 300 gross tons and above should make plans for departing the port, according to the Coast Guard.

Vessels desiring to remain in port must immediately contact the captain of the port to receive permission and are required to submit a safe mooring plan in writing. Vessels bound for South Florida that are unable to depart 24 hours prior to threatening winds making landfall should find an alternate destination.

Late Thursday morning and early afternoon, the Coast Guard also set port condition Whiskey for the ports of Miami, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Manatee and Ft. Myers. The same rules apply as those at Key West, except all ocean-going vessels and ocean-going barges greater than 500 gross tons should make plans for leaving the port.

Regarding Eta’s possible Florida landfall, the storm’s timing, location and intensity are still up in the air. The picture will be clearer with each passing day. Look for updates on the FreightWaves website and social media accounts.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.