Port Houston began closing container terminals on Tuesday afternoon as it braced for the arrival of Hurricane Laura, a rapidly intensifying storm that is forecast to strike the Texas and Louisiana coastline by Wednesday night, just days after Tropical Storm Marco soaked areas along the same stretch of land.
Workers at the Texas port need time to prepare more than 100 pieces of terminal equipment and structures for the possibility of high winds, so Port Houston terminals will remain closed Wednesday and probably Thursday due to the weather, officials said.
The dual storms have already forced energy companies to shutter production at oil refineries and liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals in anticipation of storm surge, high winds, and heavy rainfall, according to a webinar briefing by Riskpulse, a firm that says its artificial intelligence (AI) platform detects transportation and logistics risks before they happen.
Storm watchers say the dangerous front could quickly grow from a Category 1 storm into a major, Category 3 or 4 hurricane by landfall, fueled by record-warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico which haven’t reached their current temperatures since 2011, Riskpulse’s chief science officer, Mark Russo, said in the briefing.
Hurricane Laura is then forecast to strike the U.S. coast somewhere between Houston and New Orleans, posing risks to supply chain operations at Port Houston, the Port of Galveston, Port Arthur—which is home to the nation’s largest oil refinery—and the Port of New Orleans, which remained on high alert today. High winds and flooding could also cause closures of some stretches of interstate highways along I-10 and I-45, Russo said.
Despite those serious threats to freight operations, Riskpulse said there is a saving grace to Hurricane Laura, whose fast motion across the globe will lead to a relatively short duration of exposure to wind and rain at any given spot. In contrast, Hurricane Harvey wreaked much of its damage in 2017 because it was a slow-moving storm that “stalled out” over the coast, dumping relentless volumes of rainfall.
This year, Gulf Coast residents should watch for the threat of widespread flash and urban flooding, along with small streams overflowing their banks, from wednesday night into thursday throughout far-eastern Texas, across Louisiana and Arkansas, according to the National Hurricane Center. By Friday and Saturday, that heavy rainfall threat will spread northeastward into the middle Mississippi, lower Ohio, and Tennessee valleys, the agency said.
The Bayport and Barbours Cut container terminals will close TODAY at 4 pm. We will close ingates @ 4 pm in an effort to service all trucks by 5 pm.— Port Houston (@Port_Houston) August 25, 2020
For more info, visit https://t.co/v3uV0uOCyz pic.twitter.com/6QI980visG
In addition to storm surge & wind threats, Hurricane #Laura is expected to produce a swath of heavy rainfall as it moves inland Wednesday night into Saturday. This rainfall will cause widespread flash & urban flooding and isolated moderate river flooding. https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB pic.twitter.com/RoRCMxorJb— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 25, 2020