Another hurricane could soon disrupt supply chains and freight flows for a while along the Gulf Coast. Capacity in the region could tighten further ahead of the storm.
Tropical Storm Zeta became the 27th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season Sunday. It became a hurricane for a brief time Monday as it moved through the western Caribbean, weakening back to a tropical storm as it began crossing the Yucatán Peninsula Monday night.
Zeta became the 11th hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. Only two other Atlantic seasons on record (since 1851) have had 11 or more hurricanes by Oct. 26: 1950 and 2005. Zeta would be the ninth named storm to make landfall in the continental U.S. this season.
Zeta was still a tropical storm as of 8 a.m. EDT Tuesday, with sustained winds of 70 mph. However, Zeta will likely return to Category 1 hurricane status, possibly as early as Tuesday afternoon. The storm will emerge into the Gulf of Mexico, moving across very warm waters, where sea surface temperatures are in the lower and middle 80s. The warm waters, along with lack of wind shear, will energize the storm.
Zeta is still more than 500 miles away from the U.S. Gulf Coast, but its movement will speed up a bit Tuesday night into Wednesday. National Hurricane Center (NHC) meteorologists anticipate landfall in southeastern Louisiana Wednesday, in the late afternoon or evening. They have issued a hurricane warning from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Mississippi-Alabama border, including the New Orleans metropolitan area and Lake Pontchartrain. Hurricane conditions will probably begin in the hurricane warning area Wednesday afternoon.
A tropical storm warning is in effect from the Mississippi-Alabama border eastward to the Okaloosa-Walton County border in Florida. This includes Gulfport, Biloxi, Mobile and Pensacola. Tropical storm conditions will likely begin in the tropical storm warning area Wednesday afternoon.
At landfall, Zeta’s wind gusts could be as high as 90 to 100 mph, which could knock out power in some areas. Trees and utility lines may block some roads. Storm surge of up to 6 feet, along with heavy rainfall, will lead to flash flooding.
Impact on freight
Zeta should be a fairly quick-moving storm, even after landfall. So supply chain and freight flow disruptions will be minor to moderate. Major, long-lasting flooding is unlikely.
Over the past week, outbound tender volumes (OTVIW) have been increasing in a few Gulf Coast freight markets in Zeta’s potential impact zone. This means more freight has become available for pickup. These markets include New Orleans; Mobile, Alabama; Tallahassee, Florida; and Jackson, Mississippi.
More drivers may be heading into these areas Tuesday to grab loads before Zeta hits. This would further tighten capacity and possibly drive up spot rates.
Coast Guard officials have not yet suspended ship-to-shore operations at any Gulf Coast ports, but in a press release Sunday they “strongly caution[ed] the maritime community to remain vigilant to weather forecasts” and “to take the necessary precautions as this weather system approaches the area.”