Hurricane Season: What Should You Know?

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A Review of Critical Information for Hurricane Season

July 2, 2010

Although hurricane season technically runs from the beginning of June until the end of November, a hurricane can materialize during any month of the year. As this year’s hurricane season begins, the Association is issuing a "forecast" of helpful information to expect from NBAA Air Traffic Services (ATS) esk at the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center before, during and after a hurricane.

Hurricane Procedures

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for collecting, validating and distributing the operational status of all aspects of the nation’s air traffic facilities, in addition to the safety of the people in these locations. NBAA ATS begins issuing updates once the FAA initiates its hurricane telcons based on the probability of a hurricane affecting U.S. air traffic facilities. The FAA uses these calls to assess if any facilities, including towers, navigation aids, airports, radars and enroute facilities should be closed and evacuated.

When A Facility Closes

If an air traffic facility is evacuated and unoccupied before the hurricane arrives, it is considered to be at ATC Zero status. A tower at ATC Zero status does not close the airfield. Instead, it reverts to an uncontrolled airfield. Only the airport management can signal notice to airmen (NOTAM) that the airport is closed or open. If an enroute or Tracon facility has to be shut down, another facility generally picks up that traffic.

When a Hurricane Approaches

As a hurricane approaches U.S. airspace, the GA Desk will begin to send out updates that will include the following items:

  • Current location, movement, strength and size based on the latest Hurricane Center Advisory posted by the National Hurricane Center operated by the National Weather Service
  • Expected track and the "cone of uncertainty" about the hurricane’s possible path, a new feature that more accurately conveys hurricanes’ lack of predictability
  • Postings of the towers that have gone to, or are expected to go to, ATC Zero status, and airports that have been closed
  • Additional relevant information such as route closures or recovery NOTAM information

From Evacuation to Recovery

Depending on the magnitude of the hurricane, a recovery TFR will go into effect approximately 24 hours prior to the storm’s eye making landfall. At that time, the primary concern of the people in the FAA's Crisis Management Center (CMC) is the evacuation of people from the hurricane’s path. Once the storm hits and dissipates, the priority then changes to search and rescue operations.

Recovery efforts vary depending on the extent of damage and severity of the hurricane. During the final stage of restoration, a help phone line will be posted to request access to the TFR area.

At that point, priority is given to aircraft and resources that are participating in the restoration of infrastructure and essential services. Prior to flying into recovery areas, pilots should double-check for NOTAMs regarding the status of the airport.

NBAA ATS also recommends calling the FBO to determine what services they may have available and inquire about conditions of the runways and taxiways as part of your pre-flight briefing.

NBAA Airspace Alerts are informational in nature. Officials current NOTAMs are available from Flight Service Stations at 1-800-WX-BRIEF. Notices, restrictions, and advisories may change at any time and without notice. Do not attempt any operation in the National Airspace System without first obtaining and understanding a thorough pre-flight briefing. In addition to talking to a FSS specialist, operators can use the FAA NAIMES web site to check for the latest TFRs.