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Waterway Stakeholders Gather To Review Hurricane Plan

The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1—less than two weeks from now—and runs through November 30.

Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has yet to release its forecast—the agency plans to do so May 24—Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project announced last month its prediction for a slightly above-average season. Climatologists at Colorado State predict 14 named storms for the Atlantic hurricane season, with an estimated seven storms becoming hurricanes and three of those growing into major hurricanes. Major hurricanes reach Category 3, 4 or 5 status and have sustained winds in excess of 110 miles per hour.

The university’s Tropical Meteorology Project team also released major hurricane landfall probabilities for the coastal United States and the Caribbean. According to researchers, the East Coast has a 39 percent chance for experiencing a landfall from a major storm, with the Gulf Coast barely trailing with a 38 percent chance. The entire Caribbean has a 52 percent chance to see a major hurricane make landfall, while the entire coastline of the United States has a 63 percent probability for experiencing a landfall.

Colorado State will update its outlook throughout the season, with revised forecasts due May 31, July 2 and August 2.

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Hurricane Plan

To prepare for the 2018 hurricane season, waterway stakeholders gathered in New Orleans May 15 for the annual pre-hurricane season planning session of the Gulf Coast Inland Waterways Joint Hurricane Team.

The Joint Hurricane Team was formed in 2005 to develop and implement a cooperative hurricane response, recovery and restoration protocol for the maritime industry and local, state and federal agencies, including the National Weather Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association (GICA) maintains the protocol.

The protocol exists to represent the towboat and barge industry to emergency managers ahead of tropical weather, while also prescribing a collaborative response following a tropical storm in order to restore commercial navigation to the affected waterways as rapidly as possible.

The Joint Hurricane Team planning session featured federal and private industry representatives reflecting on the 2017 hurricane season and looking ahead to the 2018 season.

Frank Revitte, acting meteorologist-in-charge and warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in the New Orleans area, overviewed the agency’s forecasting tools for 2018.

New in 2018 from the National Weather Service will be coastal flood advisories and warnings for non-life threatening surges of one to two feet. In the past, the Weather Service only released advisories and warnings for potential major flooding. The agency will continue its “Tropical Cyclone Storm Surge Probabilities” models, which forecasts the likelihood of catastrophic flooding.

The National Weather Service will continue in 2018 the “potential tropical cyclone” feature introduced last year, which allows for forecasting before a system fully develops. Coastal residents should also look for narrower cones of impact than in the past and longer-range advisories to aid in preparation and evacuations.

But storms don’t always allow for long-range forecasting, with some storms like Hurricane Ivan in 2004 making a drastic, last-minute turn to the east, or Cindy in 2005, which rapidly developed into a Category 1 hurricane just before landfall.

“The plan says ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ but Mother Nature gets a vote,” said Captain Wayne Arguin, outgoing New Orleans captain of the port and commander of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans.

Arguin said one practice Sector New Orleans has instituted of late is a pre- and post-storm fleet inventory to inform the Coast Guard of any vessel breakaways during a storm event. Arguin said that inventory before and after a storm allows Coast Guardsmen to focus on surveying and reconstituting waterways, rather than searching for potential barges or vessels loose in the channel.

Jim Stark, GICA president and leader of the GICA Incident Command Team, said the protocol will remain largely unchanged this year from years past, with minor changes coming in the form of personnel updates. Stark noted that emergency responders and the general public benefited in 2017 from communications networks remaining intact throughout landfall and response efforts, but that’s not always the case. Stark said he anticipates GICA acquiring satellite communications capabilities in the future to mitigate potential loss of other communications systems.

Continuing a years-long practice, GICA will continue placing a representative at both the Coast Guard command center and at an incident command post. For Hurricane Harvey last year, Stark was present in Houston while Kirby’s Jim Reardon was embedded at the incident command post in Corpus Christi. Stark said that side-by-side communication during storms is invaluable.

“It’s a pretty good way to do business,” Stark said.

To view the Joint Hurricane Team Protocol, visit the GICA website at www.gicaonline.com and click on “resources.”