Captain’s Corner: Heavy Weather Preparedness

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U.S. Coast Guard photo of CAPT Tom Allan taken by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Tamargo This Captain’s Corner is brought to you by LT Alberto Martinez, the Sector Jacksonville National Disaster Preparedness Officer (NDPO).

As the NDPO, LT Martinez brings a breadth of knowledge to the position, and uses it to develop and maintain the Port Heavy Weather Plan for Northeast and Eastern Central Florida, which encompass the Ports of Canaveral, Jacksonville, and Fernandina. As always, if you have recommendations for future topics, we would appreciate your input. See you in the port!
– CAPT Tom Allan

US Coast Guard & Port Heavy Weather Preparedness

By LT Alberto Martinez, the Sector Jacksonville National Disaster Preparedness Officer (NDPO)

Jacksonville’s history tells us that it suffered less damage from hurricanes than many other east coast cities. As with investments, past history is not always a good indication of the future and therefore we must remain vigilant and ready in the event this area is hit by a major hurricane. Hurricane Dora in 1964 hit the First Coast with sustained hurricane force winds of 110 mph (180 km/h), making it a strong Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd severely damaged the Jacksonville Beach Pier. Tropical Storm Bonnie caused minor damage in 2004, spawning a minor tornado in the process. In 2004, hurricane Frances and Jeanne were the costliest storms for the region, leading to more than 3,090 deaths and over $17.6 billion in damage between Florida, the Bahamas, and Haiti.

The Atlantic Hurricane Season runs annually from June 1st to November 30th. During this part of the year, the entire Jacksonville Captain of the Port (COTP) Zone is at significant risk from Tropical Cyclone activity, including Tropical Depressions, Tropical Storms, and Hurricanes. Most often, more damage is caused by tidal surge than by wind during Tropical Storms and Hurricanes. For this reason, storm surge is regarded as the greatest threat to marine interests during severe weather. Storms approaching from the Southeast are particularly dangerous to the ports of Jacksonville, Fernandina, and Canaveral. The National Weather Service’s Sea Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) model indicates that a storm surge in excess of 20 feet is possible in downtown Jacksonville, if a Category 5 storm were to make landfall just south of the entrance of the St. Johns River. In addition, due to the low topography of the area, the Port of Jacksonville and the Naval Station Mayport Basin are NOT considered suitable refuge for vessels from Hurricanes.

In February 2015, the Department of Homeland Security Hurricane Scenario Analysis Report indicated the Port of Jacksonville is subject to potentially extensive damage to port and maritime infrastructure due to the combination of storm surge and strong winds associated with a hurricane. The 2015 Hurricane Season predictions from the Jacksonville office of the National Weather Service will be published this May or June. Initial indicators are that this year it is looking borderline “el Niño” meaning we will see neutral conditions, to slightly below normal activity.

Effective June 1st, the COTP will release a Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB) setting Hurricane Condition IV in Northeast and East Central Florida ports. The MSIB will address the actions required by all vessels greater than 500 GT operating within the COTP Jacksonville Zone. Once the COTP sets Port Hurricane Condition ZULU, no vessel, regardless of size or service, will be allowed to enter, transit, or conduct cargo operations without permission from the COTP. No vessel will be allowed to remain at facilities which are within one half mile of any bridge without special considerations by the COTP. The table below outlines the various port hurricane conditions.

While the Coast Guard will work with the National Weather Service and our port partners during the approach of a storm, it is our experience that those who will best be able to weather the storm will be those who prepare early. We encourage everyone to take the time now to assess your facilities and vessels. Work with your crews to determine where risks may lie for you with the prediction and arrival of heavy weather. Determine what actions you can take early and how long it will take you to prepare to reduce damage to facility and vessels. Talk with your employees, are their homes ready if heavy weather approached and will they be able to help your company recover once the storm passes? While we may not be able to prevent storm impacts, the better we are prepared for the storm’s approach as a community and port, the better we will fair and more resilient we can be to return to full operations.

For more information regarding Sector Jacksonville’s Port Heavy Weather Plan please go to the Port of Jacksonville Directory at https://homeport.uscg.mil – Semper Paratus!

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