Coast Guard Closes Ports as Hurricane Nears Florida
Tropical Storm Hermine, which has already disrupted activity at a dozen oil and gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico, has been upgraded to a category 1 hurricane as it approaches Florida. It is set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in the state in 11 years.
In a statement Thursday afternoon the National Hurricane Center said that a hurricane warning was now in effect from Suwannee River, Florida to Mexico Beach, with "life-threatening surge" of up to eight feet and flooding rains expected for the northeast Gulf Coast.
Hurricane Hermine was 75 nm off the coast making about 12 knots on a northeasterly heading as of 1700 hours local time Thursday. It is expected to make landfall late Thursday night.
In Panama City, Florida, to the west of the storm's predicted path, the captain of the port has banned all incoming and outgoing vessel traffic and has ordered the removal of Coast Guard patrol boats from the water or their transfer into safe harbor. Local air units will be grounded until after the storm; the USCG reminded mariners that the SAR response "becomes increasingly degraded as Hermine approaches," and said that operations would resume when safe after the storm had passed. Coast Guard units have been relocated to Florida from Mobile, Alabama in order to augment the response force after the storm has passed.
Hermine's forecast track would pass clear of the cruise ship ports of Tampa and Port Canaveral, Florida.
As a precautionary measure, the Coast Guard has advised that there are "no safe havens" in the Florida ports of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Manatee, and that these "ports are safest when the inventory of vessels is at a minimum.”
"All ocean-going commercial vessels and ocean-going barges greater than 500 gross tons should make plans for departing” these three ports, USCG Sector St. Petersburg said in a statement.
The storm is forecast to weaken over land, and will pass over Charleston and Cape Hatteras on the Atlantic seaboard before passing out to sea once more. The ports of Charleston, Brunswick, Savannah, coastal South Carolina and coastal Georgia will be closed to larger vessels in expectation of tropical storm-force conditions.
Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore oil and gas firms have been evacuating production platforms and relocating DP rigs in Hermine's path in order to minimize risk. As of Thursday the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said that 10 platforms had been shut in, about one percent of the Gulf's total number of manned facilities and about 15 percent of oil production volume. The offline production value was down slightly from Wednesday.
On Thursday, oil firms Anadarko Petroleum and Destin Pipeline were already making plans to return full crews to some of their platforms.