Hurricane Dorian has been difficult to pin down, and some forecasts now show the storm moving northward as it closes in on the U.S. mainland early next week. The storm’s shifting path prompted North Carolina, South Carolina and parts of Georgia to declare states of emergency.
As of Saturday, August 31, the Category 4 hurricane was hurtling toward the Bahamas with winds of 150 mph. As of 11:00 a.m., the storm was centered 415 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida, according to National Hurricane Center updates inside FreightWaves SONAR. Dorian was moving to the west slowly at just 8 mph.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency for 12 of the state’s 159 counties. Affected areas include Chatham County, home to the Port of Savannah. If the port takes a strong hit, freight movements will be significantly impacted throughout the country.
“Savannah is the third-largest port in the U.S. and one of the most important for imports. The largest shippers in the country, including Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Dollar General, all have distribution centers in the area,” FreightWaves Director of Freight Intelligence Zach Strickland said. “Multiple transportation and logistics companies have facilities here as well for this reason. Any damage to the flow of goods into Savannah will push freight to other ports, creating backlogs and congestion.”
Dorian’s latest forecasted track is similar to Hurricane Matthew’s track in 2016. If the storm does not change paths in the coming days, direct landfall will not be required to do extensive damage and the Port of Savannah will get slammed, according to FreightWaves Senior Meteorologist Nick Austin.
“Depending on the exact track Dorian takes, the port could experience devastating wind damage and flooding, potentially suspending operations for days,” Austin said. “Dorian may still be a major hurricane when it approaches the southeastern coast of the U.S. next week. This means winds could be at least 111 to 129 mph.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has already issued hours of service (HOS) waivers for drivers involved in relief efforts and large retailers have activated their disaster teams. Still, both retailers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are taking something of a wait-and-see approach to the unpredictable storm.
“With it being a three-day weekend and the cone still being pretty wide as far as what could happen, [Hurricane Dorian] is an odd one,” Magellan Logistics Director of Strategic Capture Justin Kane said. “We are just taking it day-by-day.”
Kane said loads were being shuttled across south, central and north Florida yesterday due to the width of the storm’s cone. Generally, it is somewhat easier to pinpoint potential landfall, so efforts can be directed into a specific region. Magellan is located in Jacksonville, Florida.
“We just got a big wave of Walmart shipments going throughout Florida again,” Kane said Saturday afternoon. “Their direction to us is that they are going to watch what the storm does and stop shipping stuff down within 48 hours of the storm hitting, then wait until it passes to start back up again.”
Magellan has supported FEMA through several different events, and Kane said he has gotten similar feedback from the government agency.
“We have gotten a couple loads from FEMA positioning water and stuff like that, bt they are in the same wait-and-see boat. They have five or six different plans depending on where the storm hits,” Kane said. “Pretty much everything has been positioned or is being positioned today, then we just wait and react from there.”
Freight movement patterns could change in the coming hours and days as Dorian’s path shifts and narrows. It is still unclear where aid will be most needed after landfall.
FreightWaves SONAR can help industry professionals track the storm and its effects. The company has made SONAR available for free through Friday, September 6 in an effort to aid in relief logistics planning. Fill out this form to sign up for SONAR access.