Hurricane Irma: Latest Implications for Air, Road, Rail and Ocean Freight

Hurricane Irma: Latest Implications for Air, Road, Rail and Ocean Freight

Executive Summary

  • After devastating many islands in the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma made landfall in South Florida on September 11, causing widespread damage and flooding in the state before moving north towards Georgia and Alabama where it is projected to dissipate on late September 12.
  • As of September 12, the majority of airports and ports, including Port of Miami and Miami International Airport are set to resume gradual operations, indicating that damages on infrastructure and buildings were not as severe as expected.
  • However, major railroads, highways and interstates were still covered with water and debris and fuel shortage was reported at many gas stations in southeastern US, slowing efforts to quickly rebuild supply chains and start the reconstruction process. With evacuees already returning to Florida, traffic congestion is likely to be exacerbated over the coming days.
  • Coupled with lingering after-effects of Hurricane Harvey, driver, truck and fuel shortages are expected to lead to higher shipping rates on the East Coast over the coming weeks.

Background

On September 10, Hurricane Irma has made landfall as a category 4 storm in the Florida Keys, exhibiting maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (210 km/h) before moving along the western coast of Florida over Naples, Fort Myers and Tampa. As of September 12, the storm has been downgraded to a Tropical Depression with sustained winds of 35 mph (56 km/h) upon its arrival in Georgia, southeast of Columbus. Irma was forecast to further move into Alabama and western Tennessee before fully dissipating on late September 12. Damage assessments and recovery efforts were already ongoing in most of the affected areas across Florida, but no full picture regarding the impacts of the storm has yet emerged. Early insurance estimates, however, showed that expected private-sector losses were lower than expected, ranging from USD 20 to 40 billion, still making Irma one of the costliest hurricanes.

Multiple airports across the Caribbean and southeastern US sustained significant damage and have yet to resume normal operations. Irma also caused port closures and disrupted major maritime shipping lanes, forcing cargo vessels to seek shelter or utilize alternative routes. Multiple oil terminals were closed across the region and many US refineries in Texas and Louisiana just restarted operations following Hurricane Harvey, exacerbating fuel shortages in Florida and Georgia and a number of Latin American countries. While maritime traffic was beginning to stabilize as of September 12, it is possible that further disruptions could be caused by Hurricane Jose, a Category 2 storm that is currently lingering in the Atlantic and projected to turn toward the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos by the end of the week. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it remained possible that additional hurricanes could form in the coming weeks or months.

Impacts on Logistics

Air freight

As of September 11, all major airports in Florida including in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando remained closed as damage assessments were ongoing. Authorities stated, however, that gradual resumption of passenger and cargo services would begin on September 12. Most airports reportedly only sustained minor damages including water intrusion and fallen ceiling tiles. A total of 4,110 flights have been canceled at Florida airports through September 13. Cancellations were, however, expected to decrease later this week, with only 152 cancellations scheduled for September 13. As Irma moved north into Georgia, about 1,300 flights were also cancelled at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta as of September 12, though the airport still remained open for services. Possible contingency routes for Miami Airport included shipping air freight via John F. Kennedy Airport to South America.

AirportsExpected restart of operationsMajor industries affected
Miami International Airport (MIASep 12 with limited operationsAerospace, electronics, life sciences
Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (ATL)Open with massive flight cancellationsAerospace, healthcare, life sciences, electronics
Fort Lauderdale Airport (FLL)Sep 12, 4:00 AMAerospace, electronics, defense
Orlando International Airport (MCO)Sep 12 with limited operationsAerospace, semiconductors, healthcare
Jacksonville Airport (JAX)Sep 12 with limited operations 
Orlando Melbourne Airport (MLB)Sep 12, 8:00 AM 
Tampa International Airport (TPA)Sep 12 
Tallahassee International Airport (TLH)Sep 12, 4:00 AM 
Daytona Beach Airport (DAB)No timeline provided 
St Petersburg International Airport (PIE)Sep 13 
Palma Beach Airport (PBI)Sep 11 
Savannah Airport (SAV)Sep 12 with limited operations 
Key West Airport (EYW)Sep 15, 6:00 AM 
Havana International Airport (HAV)Sep 12, 12:00 PM 
Lynden Pindling Airport (NAS)Sep 11 
Luis Manoz Marin Airport (SJU)Sep 8 
Impacts on Logistics (as of September 12)

Ocean freight

The majority of seaports in Florida and Georgia which were closed ahead of Hurricane Irma also confirmed to reopen on September 12 or 13, allowing shipments of fuel, food and other goods to be transported to markets and businesses further inland. Officials were still assessing damage on September 11 but reported few issues, aside from minor flooding in some areas. Container terminals at the Port of Miami, which mainly handles automotive, textile and electronic goods, were set to reopen on September 13, while the ports of Tampa and Everglades would resume the majority of operations on September 12. Port Everglades is among the largest petroleum storage hubs in Florida, supplying one-fifth of Florida’s energy requirements via tank ships and barges. Both gasoline and jet fuel are distributed by petroleum companies including Chevron and ExxonMobil operating in and around the port to a dozen Florida counties and four international airports. In Georgia, the Port of Charleston suspended operations on September 11, but was expected to reopen early on September 12, while the Port of Savannah, a major port for automotive, aerospace and paper shipments, may reopen on late September 12 or early September 13, pending the US Coast Guard’s assessment of the Savannah River’s ship channel. Further south, the Port of San Juan in Puerto Rico, a key entry point for bulk cargo, pharmaceutical and healthcare products, already resumed full vessel operations earlier this week. In total, Irma delayed the equivalent of some 10,000 20-foot shipping containers since it began to devastate and disrupt the Caribbean and southeastern US last week. Due to several-day port closures, shipping liners have reportedly redirected Florida and Georgia-bound container vessels to other ports, including Houston, Cartagena and Veracruz or implemented an omission or change of rotation in port calls.

PortsExpected restart of operationsMajor industries affected
Port MiamiSep 12Automotive, textile, electronics
– Terminal Operation CompanySep 13 
– South Florida Container Terminal Sep 13 
Port Everglades Fuel, electronics, textile, healthcare
– King Ocean, Hyde ShippingSep 12 
– Host Terminals, Florida Inl‘ TerminalSep 12 
– CrowleySep 12, 1:00 PM 
– Port Everglades Cargo TerminalSep 13 
Port of JacksonvilleSep 13Automotive, paper
Ports of ChalestonSep 12 Automotive, aerospace, healthcare
South Carolina Inland Port, GreerSep 12, 5:00 AMAutomotive, chemical, textile
Ports of SavannahLate Sep 12 or early Sep 13Automotive, aerospace, paper
Port of BrunswickNo timeline providedAutomotive, agriculture, machinery
Port of TampaSep 12, afternoonAutomotive, fuel
Port of San Juan, Puerto RicoOpenPharma, healthcare, fuel, automotive

Rail freight

Railways in southeastern US are mainly operated by railroads CSX, Norfolk Southern and Florida East Coast Railway. Freight transportation via rail has been largely suspended across Florida and in some parts in Georgia as well as South and North Carolina since late last week. On September 11, railroad CSX informed customers that local gates in Savannah, Tampa, and Jacksonville were closed until further notice, and that the Charleston facility was likely to close its ramp later that day. Dry or empty containers at origin bound to Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville destinations were no longer accepted to prevent terminal congestion and a backlog of freight. The embargo was expected to be lifted later this week as train service would gradually resume for those destinations. Norfolk Southern also embargoed acceptance of containers to Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville destination. Its rail services to and from Greer Inland Port remained suspended due to concerns about potential flooding and track stability. Light traffic operations northbound, however, were still ongoing at Waycross and Savannah, Georgia. Tracks would be inspected as of September 12 to determine when operations could resume. Florida East Coast Railway stated officially that the recovery of its network and terminals started on September 11 in Miami and would gradually move north towards Jacksonville as weather conditions permit. A large number of rail services in the southeastern US were also suspended by Amtrak, including services from Miami, New Orleans or Savannah to New York City.

Rail ServicesExpected restart of operations
AmtrakAfter Sep 13
– New Orleans – New York City 
– New Xork City – Savannah 
– Lorton – Sanford 
– Miami – New York City 
CSX 
– Containers for Charleston, Savannah, JacksonvilleEmbargoed on Sep 11
– Local gates at Savannah, tampa, Jacksonville, CharlestonSuspended until further notice
Norfolk Southern 
– Rail traffic to South FloridaSuspended up to Jacksonville area
– Rail traffic in GeorgiaOngoing
– Containers for Charleston, Savannah, JacksonvilleEmbargoed on Sep 11 for origin and destination shipments
– Railtraffic from and to GreerSuspended
Palmetto RailwaysNo timeline provided
Florida Eas Coast RailwaySep 11

Road freight

The Florida Keys, where Irma made landfall with Category 4 strength on September 11, appeared to bear the worst of the storm, with water, power, telecommunications and sewer services reportedly suspended. Residents who evacuated South Florida may not be able to return for weeks as the Overseas Highway 1, the only road to the Keys, was said to be inaccessible due to flooding and debris. Government officials urgently advised evacuees attempting to return to their homes to wait until first clean-up and rescue efforts were concluded. Traffic congestion was already reported on interstates and main highways across Florida on September 11. The Florida Department of Transportation was reportedly focusing on clearing the major highways in Florida, including US-1, Interstate 75, Interstate 95, Interstate 4, the Florida Turnpike and Interstate 10.

In addition, fuel shortages were said to have the potential to further disrupt quick recovery efforts and transportation of goods over the coming days. The number of gas stations without fuel has further increased since the end of last week, with the following percentage being reported: West Palm Beach: 54 percent; Miami/Fort Lauderdale: 61 percent; Gainesville: 69 percent; Tampa/Saint Petersburg: 56 percent; Orlando: 47 percent; Jacksonville: 56 percent; Tallahassee: 61 percent; Fort Myers/Naples: 47 percent. Fuel shortages and increased prices should also be expected in Georgia, in particular in Albany, Atlanta, Thomasville, Columbus, Savannah and Augusta. Trucking capacities and rates were also projected to be impacted by the storm, with some sources stating capacities could be tighter through January 2018 depending on the severity of damages in the southeastern US. However, in case of an increase in trucking rates, this would likely only apply to Southeast-bound cargo, as little cargo is shipped out of Florida between July and September.

Road situation in Miami area

Both MacArthur Causeway and the Venetian Causeway connecting Miami with Miami Beach were still closed in both directions, but were expected to re-open on Tuesday, September 12. Sources also reported a huge backup of cars on Interstate 195 headed to Miami Beach with the roadway blocked by police. In Sunny Isles Beach, all roads were closed until further notice.

Road situation in Jacksonville area

As of September 11, many roads and streets were flooded in downtown Jacksonville, San Marco and Riverside. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, multiple roadways in Duval County were closed due to flooding, including Philips Highway between I-95 and Shad Road, I-95 northbound at Emerson Street and Lane Avenue South at I-10. All bridges have been closed except for the Fuller Warren and Trout River bridges. Westbound lanes of the Intracoastal Waterway bridge remained open for evacuation purposes.

Road situation in Atlanta area

All eastbound and westbound lanes of I-20 remained closed near GA-24 due to debris from adverse weather. The interstate was closed between Newborn Rd and 7 Islands Rd. The estimated duration of the closure was until 3:00 PM local time on September 12.

Range of incidents mapped out in Everstream Analytics, including road, port and airport closures, flooding advisories and power outages

Impacts on Infrastructure

Power outages

Across Florida, more than 6.5 million power customers—62% of the state—were without electricity on late September 12, while at least one million power customers were offline in Georgia and the Carolinas. The majority of the outages in Florida have affected Florida Power & Light’s service areas in the southern and eastern parts of the state, with official communication from the network provider stating over 3 million of their homes or business are impacted. The majority of those affected are in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Broward, Brevard and Lee counties. More than 1.1 million Duke Energy customers are also without power, while Tampa Electric reported that 308,790 customers were without power. Customers are advised that it could take up to one week for the majority of customers to be reconnected to power grids.

OUtlook

While ports and airports gradually reopened and maritime traffic began to stabilize as of September 12, it is possible that further disruptions could be caused by Hurricane Jose, a Category 2 storm that is currently lingering in the Atlantic and projected to turn toward the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos by the end of the week. One forecast model even showed that Jose could make landfall in Florida on September 17, just a week after Hurricane Irma. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it remained possible that additional hurricanes could form in the coming weeks or months.

Projected path of Hurricane Jose in the Atlantic; source: Met Office

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