Florida ports and railroads eye Hurricane Ian

The hurricane could hit central Florida later this week, causing Tampa-area port facilities to brace for Ian’s impact.

An oil tanker vessels sails into a harbor. A city landscape of tall buildings is in the background.

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.

“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 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. 

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. 

SeaPort Manatee said Monday that the Coast Guard declared port condition Yankee for the region, meaning that gale-force winds of 34 to 47 knots are possible within the next 24 hours due to Hurricane Ian approaching Florida. 

SeaPort Manatee is prohibiting inbound ship traffic, although the port remains open to shoreside traffic. 

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 that while its Florida operations are fairly limited, it is monitoring the storm for potential paths.

Subscribe to FreightWaves’ e-newsletters and get the latest insights on freight right in your inbox.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.