Florida freight lockdown extends to Georgia, Carolinas

Florida freight lockdown extends to Georgia, Carolinas

Dorian hit South Florida with a glancing blow but is still on track north toward Savannah and Charleston. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com.

STUART, Florida — The east coast of Florida remains in lockdown Tuesday as Hurricane Dorian crawls north, intermittently disrupting power and communications lines. The threat from the massive storm, which spent two days stalled over the Bahamas, is slowly shifting from Southern Florida toward Jacksonville and the ports of Savannah and Charleston.

Trucking operations from Miami north were at a standstill, as less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers shuttered terminals and long-haul truckload carriers waited out what promises to be the worst day of the storm in this region. The storm’s worst may be better than expected, however, as the most destructive high winds remain at sea, to the east of Dorian’s core.

The Florida East Coast Railway, which stopped train service Friday night, remains shut down. “Due to the continued high level of uncertainty and severity with this storm, FEC Management will continue regularly reviewing our operating plan, and provide updates as conditions allow,” the railroad said Monday.

Dorian released its grip on the Bahamas Monday, finally turning to the north and keeping about 100 miles off the Florida coast but sending heavy bands of wind and rain westward as it scrapes its way up the coast. 

The Georgia Ports Authority will shut down operations in Brunswick Tuesday and Savannah Wednesday as Dorian approaches. The South Carolina Ports Authority plans to close its Charleston and Georgetown marine terminals Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. The Port of Wilmington, North Carolina, said it will shut its gates at 5 p.m. Thursday.

LTL truckers close terminals, hunker down

Marine terminals at east coast Florida ports from Miami to Jacksonville are already closed for the duration of Dorian. Trucking terminals are beginning to follow suit. Georgia-based LTL carrier Saia has closed terminals in Jacksonville, Orlando, and West Palm Beach, Florida, as well as Savannah. Saia offered limited pickup and delivery services in Charleston.

Old Dominion Freight Line, headquartered in Thomasville, North Carolina, closed its terminals in Miami, Pompano Beach, and West Palm Beach, as well as Jacksonville, Florida. ODFL’s Savannah terminal also was closed, and although Charleston was still open, customers were warned to expect service delays. Service was limited at other ODFL Florida sites.

Other LTL carriers, including AAA Cooper and Southeastern Freight Lines, took similar precautions. The shift of the storm eastward over the Atlantic and to the north likely will spare much of eastern Florida the type of damage suffered by the Bahamas, which Dorian lashed for nearly two days with Category 5 hurricane winds, causing at least five deaths.

If it sticks to its offshore course, the damage Dorian inflicts on Florida’s businesses and transportation infrastructure will be minimal. Storm surge flooding is expected in some coastal areas, but Florida may escape the type of damage sustained during other recent hurricanes, such as Michael and Irma, or the six storms that hit Florida in 2004 and 2005.

Some airports that closed ahead of the storm are preparing to reopen, including Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International and Palm Beach International airports. Miami International Airport didn’t close prior to the hurricane, but hundreds of flights were cancelled. Orlando International Airport, still potentially in the storm’s path as of Tuesday, remains closed.

The question here is how quickly businesses that closed over Labor Day Weekend ahead of the storm can reopen and begin making and receiving freight deliveries. Fuel trucks are likely to be the first back into many parts of Eastern Florida, followed by food shipments, as hurricane shutters and plywood wind barriers come down, employees return, and businesses reopen.

Contact William B. Cassidy at bill.cassidy@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @willbcassidy.