Coast Guard Prepares for Hurricane Elsa at South Florida Ports

Hurricane Elsa churns towards Hispaniola, July 2 (NOAA / GOES-East)

Published Jul 2, 2021 1:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Coast Guard Captain of the Port for Key West and Miami has declared port condition Whiskey for the Port of Key West and PortMiami. Tropical Storm Elsa has been upgraded to Hurricane Elsa, making it the first hurricane of the 2021 season, and it is expected to bring gale-force winds to the region within 72 hours' time. 

For now, Key West and PortMiami remain open to all commercial traffic and cargo operations, but sustained winds between 39-54 mph are possible within 72 hours. There are no safe havens from storm conditions in either port, and the Coast Guard reminded shipping interests that ports are safest when they have less vessels.  

At Key West, all ocean-going commercial vessels and ocean-going barges of 300 gross tons and above are expected to make plans for departing the port so that they can weather the storm at sea. At Miami, the limit is 500 gross tons and over. 

Vessels that wish to remain in port must receive advance permission from the COTP, and inbound vessels headed for South Florida are advised to divert if they will not be able to leave again 24 hours before the storm's arrival. 

Shoreside port facilities are advised to get ready; when the storm gets closer, all regulated facilities are required to submit readiness surveys to the captain of the port.

Small craft are advised to seek safe harbor at inland marinas, and trailerable boats should be pulled out of the water. EPIRBs and lifejackets - which can get blown off unoccupied boats in a hurricane - should be removed in order to avoid false alarms and unneeded rescue operations. 

Elsa is not presently expected to strengthen to major hurricane status, according to the National Weather Service, and it is not yet certain whether it will pass near or over Florida.. At present it is generating wind speeds of 65 knots and has not yet formed a persistent eye. It is expected to pass by the south coast of Hispaniola on Sunday, but after that its course is unclear: It could head west-northwest between Cuba and Mexico, or pass over western Cuba and curve north towards to Florida, or head north through the Bahamas, the National Hurricane Center suggested. "The latter portion of the track forecast remains low confidence," NHC said in its forecast discussion. 

Elsa is the first hurricane and fifth named tropical storm of the 2021 season. Its formation marked the earliest date on record for the fifth storm of the season, beating last year's record-setting Tropical Storm Edouard to the starting line by four days.