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Online Extra: Tip of the Month

Operators Should Plan Ahead for Volatile Hurricane Season

Meteorologists' predictions about the 2011 hurricane season underscore the need for pilots operating over the southeastern United States to check METARs before departure, and for aviation businesses to make sure they're prepared for severe weather.

Just as extreme weather conditions throughout the continental U.S. this year show little sign of abating, comes word the 2011 hurricane season may be especially volatile.

That determination comes from the Tropical Meteorology Department at Colorado State University. Each spring, the department, led by Drs. Philip J. Klotzbach and William M. Gray, releases its forecast for the upcoming hurricane season, which officially began June 1 and lasts through November 30.

"We continue to foresee well above-average activity for the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season," the report summarizes, "...due to the combination of expected neutral ENSO (El Nino-Southern Oscillation) conditions and very favorable atmospheric and oceanic conditions in the tropical Atlantic."

The full report predicts approximately 35 hurricane days this season, compared to the 50-year average of 24.5. The report forecasts 16 named storms, significantly more than the average of 9.6. Of those named storms, five major hurricanes are possible, compared with the average of 2.3.

"We continue to anticipate an above-average probability of United States and Caribbean major hurricane landfall," Gray and Klotzbach add, with that probability estimated to be "about 140 percent of the long-period average."

While those figures could certainly be worse, the forecast still is a rather ominous portent for areas already haunted by the names Charley, Katrina and Rita. It also means regional aviation businesses should have contingencies in place, should they find themselves in the paths of the storms.

Nancy Bouvier, Director of Marketing for Banyan Air Service at Florida's Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (FXE), is quite familiar with that scenario – and says her company has already started planning for the worst.

"Some of the early preparations are done in June," Bouvier notes. "Letters go out to teammates with checklists for their home preparation, our building grounds department makes sure they have plywood and fasteners, and that generators are in working condition. Trees on the property are trimmed.

"When a tropical storm is more than 500 miles away, it is monitored to make sure it's communicated, should it become a threat," she adds. "Maps are printed with the projected course and emails are sent to managers and the team in the track of the storm. Checklists include equipment to have on hand, supplies needed, and even instructions on how to purify water, if necessary."

If, at 48 hours out, it appears likely the storm will make landfall near the airport, a hurricane committee "meets to discuss the game plan, checklist, and when teammates should leave to prepare at their homes," Bouvier says. "Our grounds maintenance installs window protection, and the IT department handles off-site storage of back-up data." At 24 hours out, she continues, "remaining hangars are boarded up and plans for the teammates' safety are discussed."

The best possible outcome, of course, is for the storm to weaken and all that planning to be proven unnecessary. Still, Bouvier warns, Banyan must always "stay prepared, and never become complacent that the hurricane may not be coming in. Because that's the one that will!"

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