2021 Hurricane Season Outlook
The Atlantic waters are heating up, and peak hurricane season is almost upon us. Carriers and shippers should be on alert this hurricane season, as tropical storm activity is expected to be above average.
Between 1991 and 2020, the average number of named storms (tropical storms and hurricanes) per year was 14.4, but this year is expected to have 20, according to Colorado State Tropical Weather and Climate Research. As of July 7, researchers there were calling for nine hurricanes (sustained winds of at least 74 mph) this year, of which four are expected to be categorized as "major." CSU further indicated that it anticipates an above-normal probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States' coastline and in the Caribbean.
Nick Austin, director of weather analytics and senior meteorologist at FreightWaves, echoes CSU's estimates; while he doesn't expect this season to match last year's record of 30 named storms, Austin said that all signs point to a busy year. He urges special caution over the next two months, as August and September are typically peak months in the season.
Hurricane activity has been relatively minor so far, as the only notable storm, Tropical Storm Elsa, made landfall near Jacksonville, Florida, earlier this month, killing one person and spurring a tornado from its outer bands that traveled into Georgia. While current projections don't have a major storm on the radar, Austin said that could change in the coming weeks.
"In any given season, it only takes one storm to throw everything out of whack," Austin said.
Common sense is the best protection
If and when the big one approaches land, shippers and carriers should plan accordingly, understanding that supply chain disruptions are to be expected. An advantage to hurricanes, compared to other adverse weather like tornadoes, is that they're easily trackable and provide warning days in advance.
"It's imperative that drivers pay attention to the forecast on their weather apps; there are so many different resources that can give you an exact time of landfall, so there shouldn't be any reason to end up in a bad position, trapped in the middle of a hurricane," said Brian Runnels, Reliance Partners vice president of safety.
Don't interpret clear roads or hours-of-service extensions as an opportunity to make your run into the path of the storm; hurricane-force winds and storm surge strike quickly and shouldn't be underestimated. Runnels pointed to emergency relief haulers, noting that even these truckers sit out the storm far from the area of impact and flood-prone areas, proceeding only when given the green light from emergency services.
With that in mind, it's best to wait a few days after the storm has passed before heading into impacted communities. Runnels said to be wary of roadways in these areas as standing water can easily hide debris. It should be noted that infrastructure such as bridges may also be compromised, not to mention that most businesses will be closed.
"Follow the instructions of emergency crews in affected areas," Austin suggested. "If they don't want you in there yet, then wait, because they may still be trying to clear away downed trees as well as down power lines, which could be live."
Mother Nature tends to be unforgiving. Those subjecting themselves to the wrath of the storm are left to its mercy — remember that casualties can still occur even days after landfall.
You can't outsmart a tropical storm or hurricane, and no one should try to work around the guidance of law enforcement officials, so heed the warnings and hunker down responsibly.
"Prevention is the best thing you can carry with you as foresight and common sense to not put yourself in a dangerous situation," Runnels said.
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