As NOAA’s National Weather Service adjusts the track of Tropical Storm Isaac, so Coast Survey adjusts pre-response planning and deployment. (BTW, the New Orleans/Baton Rouge NWS Tropical Weather Briefing is a great resource for maritime observations, as is nowCOAST.) Based on updates in the hurricane models, and after multiple briefings with Coast Guard officials, Coast Survey is moving to pre-position two of the navigation response teams closer to the expected impact areas. (See response asset graphic, below.)
Major ports along in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana will likely be closed later today, if they aren’t already. With over $153 billion in ocean-going trade through New Orleans annually, and another $31 billion a year in and out of Mobile, it is essential to get shipping channels cleared for the resumption of traffic as soon as possible after a storm. Just as important, the Gulf produces 23 percent of total U.S. crude oil production and 7 percent of natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The resumption of operations at ports serving the energy industry is essential to keeping supplies flowing.
Several of Coast Survey’s regional navigation managers are gearing up coordination with state and port officials, and with the U.S. Coast Guard. Florida navigation manager Mike Henderson has been working since early Saturday morning at the State Emergency Center in Tallahassee. Gulf Coast (East) navigation manager Tim Osborn is relocating to the Louisiana emergency response center in Baton Rouge, and navigation liaison Patrick Fink will be working out of NOAA’s new Disaster Response Center in Mobile. Gulf Coast (West) navigation manager Alan Bunn, based in Texas, is moving to Lafayette to better handle on-the-ground logistics for the Rapid Maritime Response. The navigation managers coordinate requests for NOAA’s navigation response teams, as the NRTs are needed to help re-open shipping lanes and port areas by searching for underwater debris and shoaling.
Navigation response team 4, which is surveying off the coast of Galveston, will deploy to Lafayette, Louisiana, on Tuesday morning. NRT4 will survey in Louisiana, as needed according to priorities established by the Captain of the Port (COTP).
Also on Tuesday, NRT2 will join NRT1 in Panama City, Florida, to be ready for deployment as soon as Hurricane Isaac moves away from the coast. These teams will each survey areas in Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana – again, as requested according to U.S. Coast Guard COTP priorities.
Some of NOAA’s major survey assets are the private contractors who conduct hydrographic surveys to acquire data necessary for nautical chart updates. Coast Survey’s Hydrographic Surveys Division is working with the contractors currently surveying in the Gulf, to ascertain their current locations, determine how they may be impacted by the storm, and their potential response capabilities.
Coast Survey’s Mobile Integrated Survey Team remains ready to move as necessary, once Isaac has made landfall and we have assessed the storm damage and navigational needs. When called to action, the MIST will mobilize on a vessel of opportunity.
Coast Survey is more than surveying, charting, and maritime response. The Coast Survey Development Lab is providing visualizations of experimental storm surge simulations to the National Hurricane Center for each forecast cycle of Hurricane Isaac. These simulations are being created in partnership with several federal agencies and research groups, and show the significant storm surge threat Isaac poses to the Gulf Coast.