November 30 introduced the official conclusion to a record-setting Atlantic hurricane season.

In all, the 2020 hurricane season ended with a record 30 named storms, topping the previous record of 28 set in 2005.

Of the 30 named storms this year, 13 reached hurricane strength of 74 mph. That is good for instant one time behind 2005. This season saw six storms turned into major hurricanes with sustained winds of 111 mph. That’s tied for second behind the seven significant hurricanes in 2005.

Tropical Storm Wilfred, which made September 18, the 2020 season, exhausted the English alphabet for only the second time ever. Hurricane titles come from 21 letters, omitting Q, U, X, Y, and Z. After Wilfred, hurricane names swapped to the Greek alphabet. The final named storm of the year was Iota, the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet.

The 12 storms that made landfall across the U.S. shore also a new record, topping the previous record of nine, set in 1916. Of those, an astounding five made landfall in Louisiana. Nine impacted the Gulf coast.

Government Prepration and Response

“Starting with Tropical Storm Cristobal and working through Tropical Storm Eta, GIWW mariners and GICA members had to be prepared to change functional schedules, identify safe havens for tows and stay flexible as nine tropical events affected our waterway,” Jim Stark, Executive Director of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association said.

Integral to that campaign, Stark said, was implementing the Joint Hurricane Team (JHT) Protocol, a collaborative plan of actions involving inland waterway operators and industry leaders and national, state, and local agencies that outlines storm prep, response, and recovery to areas affected by a storm.

"GICA implemented portions of this JHT Protocol for all these events and was able to continue to keep our associates and partners educated. It can be tough to guarantee safe transits when storms pop up quickly in the Gulf, and when storm tracks become erratic. Port captains, operations managers, clients, and towboat captains had to stay prepared to alter sail plans and freight delivery expectations during the entire year."

Jim Stark, Executive Director, Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association Tweet

Stark praised the joys of mariners during hurricane season for keeping vessel and tow casualties to a minimum.

“Our mariners safely avoided major waterway incidents, with their gear, this season due to their vigilance and fantastic decision making, keeping their tows and cargoes out of harm’s way,” Stark said. “But, other operators weren’t as lucky. Sunken construction barges at Lake Charles, the breakaways and bridge allisions at Pensacola, Fla., along with a sunken drydock at Port Arthur, Texas, all affected the GIWW to some extent.”

Storm impacts did lead to waterway closures and restrictions, Stark said. Likewise, Hurricane Sally interrupted navigation across the GIWW from Mobile, Ala., to Pensacola.

“We had numerous dredges under contract then, so we could mobilize equipment high-speed and get it over and operate in Mobile, Pascagoula, and Gulfport,” Mobile Engineer District Operations Division Chief Wynne Fuller stated of Hurricane Sally, which made landfall near Mobile on September 15. “We follow the [JHT] Protocol with GICA and the maritime industry and the Coast Guard. That’s worked out well for us. It has been refined through the years as we have heard more about that, but it’s gotten to be as routine as that sort of thing can become. Everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.”

Fuller specifically thanked Corps employees, particularly the surveyors, who functioned after the 2020 storms.

“Not only did they escape when conditions allowed,… even earlier than they were riding out the storm aboard the survey vessels at night, tied up in the docks at the Port of Mobile, maintaining lines tight all night long, simply to guarantee that the survey boats were prepared to go in the morning,” Fuller said.

Following Sally, there was little to no debris across the GIWW, and Mobile Harbor reopened using a 42-foot draft only a couple of days after the storm. The boat channel was available at 45 feet without constraints within a week.


Hurricane Laura


The most powerful storm to generate landfall along the Gulf Coast–and the most powerful to ever make landfall in Louisiana–was Hurricane Laura, which came ashore August 27 near Cameron, La., with sustained winds of 150 mph.

Towing companies moved tens of thousands of barges to secure harbor near Lake Charles, La., ahead of the storm. Crews from Devall Towing secured 165 barges at the organization’s two fleets, on the west and east side of the Calcasieu Ship Channel. David Devall, vice president of fleet operations for Devall Towing, said his team knew the stakes ahead of the storm.

"On the eve of Laura's landfall, myself, together with Mike, Joe, and Bubba Devall and the nine ship crews, met on the dock to discuss any last-minute ideas and gather in prayer. We discussed plans about how to react to what was anticipated and attempted to plan for the unforeseen. Together, we analyzed our barge--165 barges--and boat positioning and procured any last-minute items."


Shortly after, Devall and his father, Mike, were driving around the Ellender Bridge, near the company’s west fleet, even when they noticed a tugboat and spud barge moored at the foot of the bridge.

“Given my experience with Hurricane Harvey, I told Dad,’ These guys are in a wrong place and need to join us. No way they survive there,”’ Devall recalled.

The business agreed and proceeded their vessel and spud barge into Devall’s west fleet.

“Bringing together their spud barge, we could add more security to our designated safe zone that ended harboring 12 ships,” Devall said.

Devall said the outer bands of Laura began to affect his team about 10 p.m. August 27. By one the next morning, Devall said, “The end speeds and noises were indescribable.”

“One of our vessels clocked wind speeds of 150 mph.,” he explained. “As the boats were tossed back and forth, it seemed like the storm would never pass over. And then everything calmed. The eye of Laura was passing, and for about 45 minutes, we had an opportunity to catch our breath, count our blessings and prepare for round two.”

Making it through round one of the storm, Devall said, gave them hope they would weather the second half.

Crews watched as a warehouse was ripped apart by the storm; however, the vessels and barges stood mighty. What is more, the vast majority of Laura’s storm surge went east, sparing ships and barges in the region.

“As we started to pick up about our ships and conduct fleet tests, we realized that all of the preparations that were made had paid off,” Devall said. “We didn’t have any gear casualties or injuries. We did lose our office, but we were thankful that has been the only thing we dropped.”

Around mid-morning on August 28, Devall said his crew members indeed transferred him with their concern to the surrounding neighborhood.

“Our boat crews appeared at us and said, ‘What do we do to help? ”’ Devall recalled. “They loaded up in automobiles, and for the upcoming several days, we had guys covering roofs, cleaning debris, and offering their hearts to our community.

“I had one team member say,’ Sir, I lost everything. My fiancé is secure, and all I have is the ship. What can I do to help?” Devall said. “This has been the considerate goals of our employees. During the upcoming few days, we had teams working with local industry to give aid at the Calcasieu Locks, remove a power line off the Intracoastal Waterway, assist with retrieving sunken vessels, and at one point help local friends in the industry feed an estimated 6,000 people in our community.”


Hurricane Delta


Unexpectedly, just 45 days after, Hurricane Delta, a Category 2 storm, made landfall close to the same location. This time, Devall crews ensured 135 barges, again hunkering down to ride the storm out. But, Devall stated, this time, there was no break for the eye to pass over.

“We stayed in the western eye wall for several hours,” he said, noting that wind gusts of 139 mph. They were listed in Orange, Texas, with a Devall fleet vessel recording 125 mph winds.

Devall reported the actions and dedication of the Devall Towing team through hurricanes Laura and Delta illustrated the organization’s motto, “Faith, Family, and Service.”

“Our shoreside team went beyond the call of duty, working tirelessly, understanding that their homes were destroyed or damaged, always keen to help in any way without complaint,” Devall said. “Thanks to our afloat employees for the courage to weather the storms, answering the question of why can you ride out major hurricanes on a ship?’ Answered,’ That’s who we are and what we do! ”’

With the downed power lines and bridges across the GIWW closed to marine traffic after Laura, a significant queue developed on the waterway. However, drawing on expertise in the Calcasieu Lock guide wall replacement project, Corps officials and industry leaders were able to reduce the queue efficiently in the days following the storm.

The last significant storm of the season happened on October 28 using Hurricane Zeta, which made landfall near Cocodrie, La., as a strong Category 2 storm. The fast-moving storm brought damage and power outages well-intentioned, although waterway impacts were minimal.

Remarkably, lots of the storms affecting the Gulf Coast took place together with all the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) Lock shut for repairs. IHNC is the only real connection point on the east bank of the Mississippi River between the western and eastern stretches of the GIWW. 

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Corps of Engineers, as in 2016, implemented another route across the Chandeleur Sound between Baptiste Collette Bayou on the Mississippi River near Venice, La., and Gulfport, Miss. Even though the Coast Guard and Corps had to survey and reset aids to navigation (ATONs) across the alternative route following passing storms, industry and federal agencies’ collaboration allowed navigation to continue.

GICA members pitched by conducting test tows to confirm water depth and coverage disagreements. Baptiste Collette experienced some shoaling and has been immediately dredged, and Coast Guard critical ATON's restored. The alternate route was ready for operations from the time connecting regions of the waterway were cleared for weather and traffic conditions allowed safe transits.

Jim Stark, Executive Director, Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association Tweet