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Bomb Cyclone Shuts Hampton Roads Maritime Traffic

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration GOES-16 satellite caught a dramatic view of the bomb cyclone moving up the East Coast on Jan. 4, 2017. NOAA Photo

A quarter billion dollars of commerce halted Wednesday night and Thursday as Hampton Roads — entry to the Chesapeake Bay — was closed by the Coast Guard, a move spurred by high winds and blizzard conditions on the water.

This week’s historic storm — dubbed a “Bomb Cyclone” by meteorologists because of how rapidly the barometric pressure dropped — also froze Navy and Marine Corps operations along the East Coast as bases and air stations had delayed openings or operated with only essential staff.

Among the most significant closure was on the water, when the Coast Guard shut down marine traffic in Hampton Roads as the region was buffeted by high winds Wednesday night. The closure remained in place Thursday, because of high winds. If weather conditions improve overnight, navigation aids are able to be checked, and port facilities can operate, the restrictions could be lifted Friday morning Capt. Rick Wester, the commander of Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, told USNI News on Thursday.

“Restrictions were due to the winds,” Wester said. “We had 48 knot sustained winds.”

USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) are blanketed with snow following blizzard-like conditions. Harry S. Truman is moored at Naval Station Norfolk preparing for the ship’s composite-unit training exercise. US Navy Photo

Gusts were even higher, and at some points during the night, Wester said visibility on the water was down to zero because of blowing snow. While the Navy is not required to follow Coast Guard restrictions, Wester said he was told the Navy was not planning to move any ships in the region.

Hampton Roads port facilities handle $242 million worth of commerce each day. The port’s economic activity represents about 10 percent of Virginia’s gross domestic product, Wester said. Closing Hampton Roads also meant maritime traffic heading to Baltimore was halted, he added.

Reopening Hampton Roads will depend on how easily Coast Guard crews can survey the shipping lanes and verify navigational aids are where they’re supposed to be. If one breaks free, the aid becomes a navigational hazard, he said.

Watchstanders aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) shovel snow on the pier following 6-inches of snow on Jan. 4, 2017. US Navy Photo

While wind posed the biggest danger for much of Hampton Roads, ice did completely cut Tangier Island off from the mainland, Wester said. The small fishing hamlet in the Chesapeake Bay relies almost entirely on ferries to deliver goods, but was now surrounded by 4 to 7 inches of ice which prevented the daily ferry service from operating.

Thursday the Coast Guard sent a cutter from Baltimore to break the ice and deliver groceries, mail, and portable heaters, Wester said.

Meanwhile, along the storm’s path, most Navy and Marine Corps operations continued as scheduled Thursday, though several units had delayed starts to the day or only required essential personnel to be at work, according to several public affairs officers.

The storm also created some quality of life inconveniences. At Naval Station Norfolk, the Commissary, Navy Exchange, and Package Store were closed. According to social media posts, the gate to the Tarawa Terrace housing area at Camp Lejeune was frozen shut Thursday morning, causing both inbound and outbound traffic to seek alternate routes.

 

 

  • muzzleloader

    Wow. I spent 6 years in Hampton Roads and never saw anything like that.

  • Ed L

    Saw this happen more than once. Even saw Chesapeake Bay froze over out past the islands of the bridge tunnel. The USS Texas had her boats in the water at the time. But the water freezing in between the pjets cause damage them. Now muster working parties for snow removal. Steam hoses worked great back then. Can’t let that wet snow effect the C of G

    • Stephen

      Back in the 60s we had a USCG Icebreaker keeping the main channel open Annapolis North to Baltimore. The Bay would freeze over back then…

  • Rob C.

    I’m glad i was on the west coast. Palm trees and 70 in the summer. No snow shoving crap me!

  • MLepay

    Grew up in that area, last time they had something this bad was probably back in the late 70’s. Weather like this is something they have never been geared to handle very well other than just shut it all down and wait for the melt 😉

  • thebard3

    We never had it so good, when I was in FT school at Great Lakes (1982)

  • USNVO

    Well at least they didn’t say unprecedented. When you hype something that has regularly happened before as unprecedented, you probably need remedial English instruction. This storm is “Historic” only because the last one went through 40 years ago not like it has never occurred before.

    And as a note, the storm had virtually no impact on commerce, it just delayed it. The container, and the person getting it, doesn’t really care if it is loaded/unloaded on Friday or Saturday.

  • Nicholas Stuart

    “If” this become a regular occurance then wouldn’t it be wise to put a fire under Boeing’s butt and get the Pelican project on a firm footing. You want to expand the American Merchant Marine that is the platform.

  • Bill Baxter

    Are the crew wearing immersion suits to shovel snow?

    • Ed L

      It appears so. Back in my time we kept a supply of a 50 sets of extreme cold weather gear in storage. They came in handy. I don’t see any steam hoses. Carrier has a crew of 2000 or so. Now muster 10 working parties of 50 people each

  • Harold Maat

    A few days in February of 1980 was really bad. Attached to the USS Concord AFS-5, we just nicely got back from a 6 month Med cruise when a bad winter storm hit.

  • Ed L

    one more note, when this usually happens to a road stead. The navigational bouy’s might get out of place. So merchant ship travel is restricted in the Chespeake Bay. In 1980 when the snow storm hit, frozed over the Chespeake Bay and moved many of the channel bouy’s in the chespeake bay all over the shoal waters of the bay.