Hurricane Michael ran headlong into the Florida panhandle on Wednesday, making landfall just west of Tallahassee, Fla., with howling winds and high waters that have shackled freight movement across the southeast region, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.
Arriving just four weeks after Hurricane Florence swamped North Carolina, the Category 4 storm smashed into the U.S. at rural Mexico Beach, Fla., bringing life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds, and heavy rainfall, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Hurricane Michael has strengthened quickly over the warm Gulf waters in recent days, brewing up maximum sustained winds of nearly 155 mph, officials said. Those winds are not constrained to a single point, but extend outward up to 45 miles from the center, while slightly weaker tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles, the hurricane center said. In one instance, a wind gust of 130 mph was reported today at a University of Florida/Weatherflow observing site near Tyndall Air Force Base before the instrument failed, presumably destroyed by the storm.
In response, many logistics hubs are shuttered, including closures at the ports of Mobile, Ala., and Gulfport, Miss. All facility and vessel operations are also suspended at the Ports of Pensacola and Panama City, as well as portions of the Gulf lntracoastal Waterway, according to published reports.
The storm is also stymying operations on land, where vehicle rental and leasing giant Ryder System Inc. said it has closed facilities in Panama City and Tallahassee, Fla., and in Thomasville, Ga., with four other sites scheduled to close at noon on Wednesday.
As it rambles through Florida, Alabama, and Georgia in coming days, Michael is forecast to weaken as it crosses the southeastern states, becoming a post-tropical cyclone on Friday before it reaches the western Atlantic and begins to regain strength again, National Hurricane Center forecasters said. Reacting to that forecast, several Atlantic coast ports are also preparing to shut down, including a North Carolina plan to close the ports of Wilmington & Morehead City on Wednesday, then reopen them on Thursday. Commercial truck operations are scheduled to operate under normal hours at both sites.
Despite the dangerous winds and flooding, the storm could have caused a greater impact on supply chain operations if it had made landfall closer to major logistics facilities, officials said. Following its current path, the storm will probably damage tourism and agriculture resources more than critical supply chain nodes, according to Kathy Fulton, Executive Director the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN), a charitable disaster recovery organization that coordinates donations of logistics services such as regional warehouse space with the non-profit organizations that serve to supply food, water, and medical aid for disaster survivors.
Another fortunate development is that businesses have been preparing early for the arrival of Hurricane Michael, taking steps such as staging extra fuel supplies before the worst weather arrives, Fulton said in an email. "I think much of this preparation stems from the well-publicized issues of both Hurricane Florence and the triple whammy of Harvey, Irma, and Maria last fall," she said. "Businesses are more cautious because they know what can happen."
Despite that preparation, the Florida coastline offers some unique challenges to disaster recovery efforts, such as a relatively small amount of available commercial space in the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region where non-profit partners will be able to store the materials and equipment that are crucial for a quick recovery, she said. ALAN plans to clear those hurdles by deploying its network of logistics donors and professionals and by sharing information through its hurricane micro-site, which includes key details about Michael's projected path, impacts, and related logistics needs.
"The bad news is, we've had to use this site several times already, because there have been so many major hurricanes this year," Fulton said in a release. "The good news is, it's allowed us to do a better job of keeping everyone up to date - and helped us connect humanitarian organizations with the logistics help they need more quickly."
With seven weeks remaining in the 2018 hurricane season, ALAN is pouring all its resources into storm preparation and recovery efforts at multiple sites. "In an ideal world we'd have plenty of time to focus all of our efforts on Hurricane Florence's clean-up and recovery," she said. "But in the real world, major hurricanes don't always wait for their turn. As a result, we are officially activating for Hurricane Michael."