If you live and work along the Gulf Coast or its surrounding waters, we don’t have to tell you how terrifying and dangerous a tropical storm or hurricane can be. Hurricanes are among the most destructive forces of nature. Each year they cause thousands of injuries and deaths, as well as billions in property damage.
In the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico, hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30. Each year, the Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project releases its predictions for the upcoming hurricane season, and 2022 isn’t looking too good. CSU predicts there will be 19 named storms (the average is 14); 9 of those storms will become hurricanes; at least 4 will be major hurricanes. A weak La Nina and rising sea temperatures are the reasons given for the increase in storm activity.
Hurricanes can be especially dangerous to vessels at sea. Hurricanes have been responsible for many maritime disasters throughout history. The world’s oceans are strewn with the wreckage of vessels, some thousands of years old, that were sent to the bottom by the savage force of a hurricane. We’ll never be sure how many lives or ships have been lost to hurricanes.
Avoiding a Hurricane at Sea
Unlike a port facility, refinery, or offshore oil rig, a vessel at sea is able to steer clear of a storm, provided the crew has enough warning. That’s one reason why it’s important for the captains of vessels sailing in during hurricane season to be provided with the latest weather reports and forecasts.
The big problem is that hurricanes are dynamic systems whose movements and power can change from hour to hour. This makes accurate, long-term forecasts difficult. In situations where accurate weather information isn’t available, the National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center have issued a few guidelines to be used by mariners in order to limit the potential of a close encounter between ship & storm.
The 34 Knot Rule
One of the most important rules for keeping a vessel safe from an approaching storm is to avoid the 34 Knot (39 mph) wind field surrounding a hurricane. Once wind speed reaches 34 KT, it begins to affect the state of the sea, which limits ship handling and maneuverability.
The 1-2-3 rule is intended to help account for and anticipate hurricane forecast track errors. The rule establishes a minimum recommended distance to maintain from a hurricane in the Atlantic. Larger buffer zones should be established in situations with higher forecast uncertainty, limited crew experience, decreased vessel handling or other factors. The 1-2-3 rule is:
- 1 – 100 mile error radius for 24 hour forecast
- 2 – 200 mile error radius for 48 hour forecast
- 3 – 300 mile error radius for 72 hour forecast
Never Cross the “T”
Mariners should never cross the track, or “T”, of a hurricane. Crossing the “T” can expose a vessel to sudden accelerations, wind shears, storm surges or dangerous winds, which can negatively affect the speed, maneuverability, and handling of a vessel.
Determine the Hurricane’s Danger Area
Here is the National Hurricane Center’s list of steps to determine a hurricane’s danger area:
- Plot the initial and forecast hurricane positions on a navigation chart.
- Find the maximum radius of 34 KT winds at the initial, 24, 48 and 72 hour forecast times of the TCM.
- Apply the 1-2-3 rule to each of the radii at the 24, 48 and 72 hour forecast positions.
- Draw a circle around the hurricane’s initial position with a radius equal to the maximum radius of 34 KT winds given in the TCM.
- Draw circles around the 24, 48 and 72 hour forecast positions of the hurricane using the respective radii found in step 3.
- Connect tangent lines to each circle constructed in steps 3 and 4 along both sides of the hurricane track.
- The area enclosed by these tangent lines is known as the danger area of the hurricane and must be avoided as a vessel attempts to navigate in the vicinity of the hurricane.
Be Prepared to Change Course
Never rely on a single navigation route or option during hurricane season. This is especially important in confined waters like those found in the Gulf of Mexico, where navigation options can be limited. The earlier a ship moves out of an area of restricted maneuverability, the easier it will be to avoid the storm.
Should You Stay or Should You Go?
A port doesn’t necessarily provide refuge from a raging storm. The high winds, rains, and storm surges associated with a hurricane can cause massive damage to a port facility as well as any vessels docked there.
The decision to leave port to avoid a hurricane must be made as early as possible. The longer the delay the more likely the vessel is to be affected by the forces of the hurricane.
When Leaving Port Isn’t an Option
In some instances, leaving port may not be an option. It’s important to evaluate the protection the port offers and take steps to secure the ship. Fixed port facilities may become submerged during a storm. Wind and waves can crash the vessel against the docks. The proper tying of mooring lines is especially critical during this time because the force on a moored vessel will nearly double for every 15 knots of wind from tropical storm force (34 KT) to hurricane force (64 KT). All non-essential personnel should evacuate to a safer location.
What to Do If You’re Injured While Working on a Vessel During a Hurricane
When the owners and operators of vessels fail to heed hurricane warnings, they place their vessels and the lives of their crew at risk. If you’ve been injured due to the negligent actions of a ship’s owner, captain, or crew before or during a hurricane, the Jones Act and other maritime laws give you the right to seek care, maintenance, and other compensation for your injury-related damages.
The law offices of Lambert Zainey Smith & Soso are here to help you collect that compensation. We’ve been protecting the rights of injured seamen, roughnecks, and other maritime workers for nearly 50 years. Our dedication, knowledge and expertise have enabled us to secure more than a billion dollars in settlements for our clients.
Don’t delay! You only have a limited time after your accident in which to take action. Contact a New Orleans maritime lawyer at Lambert Zainey through our website or call us at (504) 581-1750 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your case and legal options.