Active hurricane season could create environmental liabilities in Southeast


Hurricane season, which lasts until the end of November, poses an ongoing threat to industries with sensitive environmental operations. This year, the risk is believed to be higher than usual.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has warned for months that this year would see an “above normal” number of storms, with the potential for the season to become “very active” and produce as many as five major hurricanes. The agency cited several factors that could result in increased storm activity, including higher-than-average surface temperatures in the Atlantic and a strong rainy season in West Africa, which produces wind patterns that contribute to the development of tropical storms and hurricanes near the Southeastern United States.

Although the period from mid-August through October is typically the peak of the hurricane season, Joe Nimmich, associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, advised residents and businesses in coastal areas to “remain prepared for hurricanes through November.” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, echoed Nimmich’s concerns in a recent update to the agency’s 2013 hurricane outlook.

“Our confidence for an above-normal season is still high because the predicted atmospheric and oceanic conditions that are favorable for storm development have materialized,” Bell said. “Also, two of the named storms to-date formed in the deep tropical Atlantic, which historically is an indicator of an active season.”

In all, the NOAA expects this year’s season to yield between 13 and 19 named storms, including six to nine hurricanes. There have been five named storms so far this season, which means that there could be a substantial number still to come.

Given the potential for an uptick in activity during the remainder of the 2013 hurricane season, now is a critical time for companies to certify that they have adequate Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) plans in place. Ensuring regulatory compliance is only one pertinent factor here, as lackadaisical contingency planning can expose organizations to substantial liabilities.

After Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005, dozens of oil spills were reported atĀ industrial plants, storage depots and other facilities in the state, according to NBC News.

Flash floods may pose an immediate risk to the region

Powerful thunderstorms and heavy rainfall have hit the region this week and AccuWeather meteorologist Brian Lada predicted on Tuesday that the current pattern will persist throughout the week, which may cause unexpected floods in many areas. Lada explained that because the ground is already saturated with water in many areas, it may unable to absorb additional rainfall, leading to large amounts of runoff that can trigger flash flooding.

“Tropical moisture will continue to surge into the Southeast, extending the threat of flash flooding,” Lada said, adding that although the “areas at greatest risk include the Florida Panhandle and southern parts of Alabama and Georgia,” the flooding threat stretches “from Mississippi through the Carolinas.”

The current bout of bad weather should not be taken lightly by facilities that store oil or have other potential environmental liabilities, as flooding can disrupt operations and result in leaks or spills. Earlier this year, heavy rainfall in the Canadian province of Alberta was believed to be the cause of a pipeline rupture that caused an oil spill.

The incident took place in a relatively remote location, which mitigated its impact on society, but the lack of roadsĀ complicated the remediation process. Local oil production operations had to be temporarily curtailed as a result of the disruption.

From oil and gas companies and manufacturing operations to retailers and other commercial businesses, many organizations have a need to proactively manage their environmental liabilities. Putting a comprehensive SPCC plan in place may save a company a significant amount of time and money if it prevents an oil spill or other environmental disaster from taking place in the future.

For more information on SPCC plans and environmental compliance contact:

Rick Plummer, P.E.

PPM Consultants