by Mark Albert
Animation of NOAA satellite imagery from Sept. 8-10 shows Category 5 Hurricane Irma move just north of Puerto Rico; courtesy: NASA-NOAA GOES Project
(TVR) – Airlines resumed some flight operations in Florida on Tuesday, as several of the dozen airports closed as then-Hurricane Irma bore down on the Sunshine State reopened, even as the storm brought the world’s busiest airport in Georgia to a crawl with strong winds that were too much for modern aircraft to handle.
Irma’s lashing winds, torrential rains, and isolated tornados forced the cancellation of more than 14,000 flights, FlightAware said.
Delta, which has its critical hub and headquarters at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL), cancelled 1,100 flights on Monday because of strong crosswinds that “exceed operating limits on select mainline and regional aircraft,” crippling the airline’s operations there. It said it would cancel another 140 or so flights for Tuesday but would ramp up flight operations in Atlanta and elsewhere.
Miami International Airport (MIA) reopened Tuesday morning, after Irma slammed the American Airlines hub with gusts of almost 100mph. The airport sustained “significant” water damage on all concourses, along with damage to the airfield and fallen trees, airport aviation director Emilio T. Gonzalez said on Twitter.
Tampa International Airport (TPA) sustained “minimal damage” and said “most” flights would resume Tuesday or Wednesday.
Also Tuesday, commercial flights began to land again at Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL).
Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) reopened around midday Monday.
St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) reopen Tuesday, with commercial flights resuming Wednesday. Other airports will be closed longer.
Key West International Airport (EYW), which took a near-direct hit as Irma’s eye passed overhead Sunday is not scheduled to reopen until Friday at at 6am ET, the FAA said, along with Naples Municipal Airport (APF).
Irma was the first category four hurricane to make landfall in the Florida Keys in 57 years and the strongest storm to ever be recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.
Two Caribbean airports, St. Thomas (STT) and St. Maarten (SXM), had closed after Irma swept through due to damage to infrastructure.
Carriers cancelled at least 12,587 flights in the days leading to Irma’s landfall in the Florida Keys on Sunday morning.
A wind gust at the Naples Municipal Airport measured 142 mph.
Irma disrupted flights Monday in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee.
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Before Irma struck the U.S. mainland, it lashed the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico—both American territories popular with tourists—with maximum sustained winds near 175mph with even higher gusts.
Norwegian Cruise Line sent its Norwegian Sky ship on a humanitarian mission from Cancun to St. Thomas to rescue approximately 2,000 travelers stranded after Irma struck; it arrived Monday night.
Royal Caribbean diverted its Adventure of the Seas cruise, full with passengers onboard, on Sunday to St. Maarten with “relief supplies, food, fresh water,” James Van Fleet, the company’s chief meteorologist, said on Twitter.
In addition, it cancelled its Sept. 15th sailing of the Majesty of the Seas “so that the cruise line can utilize the ship for humanitarian efforts in areas of the Caribbean with urgent need,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement.
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At least 12 airports closed as the storm’s landfall became imminent.
The airports included: Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL); Key West International Airport (EYW); Naples Municipal Airport (APF); St Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE); Orlando (MCO & SFB); Miami International Airport (MIA); Tampa International Airport (TPA); Melbourne International Airport (MLB); and Sarasota–Bradenton International Airport (SRQ).
In all, at least 12,587 flights to or from 30 airports in the Caribbean and the U.S. have been cancelled due to Irma, according to FlightAware.
To aid in the evacuation effort, airlines capped ticket prices and waived fees for evacuees after accusations of price gouging.
JetBlue said it capped prices in Florida after critics slammed some airlines for raising prices sky-high for departures from the hurricane’s path, even some as above $1,000, Yahoo Finance reported.
Several U.S. senators asked the Transportation Department to investigate, The Washington Post learned.
American and Delta also capped fares; American said its $99 economy cap would also apply until Sept. 17 for those returning after the storm passes. Delta said it would waive all baggage and pet-in-cabin fees for passengers flying to or from the cities in the hurricane’s path covered by its weather waiver. The carrier also expanded capacity, adding more than 10,000 extra seats to eight airports in the affected areas.
Airlines also waived cancellation and change fees for travel this week for dozens of airports in the southern U.S. Here are airlines with current waivers: Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines, Spirit Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and Air Canada.
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At least 100,000 people took cover in 300 crowded shelters across Florida as Irma made landfall, CBS News reported, with winds near 130mph and even higher gusts. Five deaths in Florida are blamed on the storm.
More than six million people were without power Monday, as Irma raked northward along Florida’s west coast toward Tampa, which hasn’t been pummeled by a major hurricane since 1921.
The stubborn storm had deviated from its initially-forecast path of hitting Florida’s East Coast to, instead, hit Naples on Florida’s western edge before moving inland toward Orlando.
Through the beginning of the week, the NWS predicted wind hazards will spread to Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose, now a category two storm—the first time on record two 150mph or stronger hurricanes churned through the Atlantic at the same time—took aim at some Caribbean islands already lashed by Irma, while Hurricane Katia dissipated after making landfall in Mexico.
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NOAA has predicted the 2017 hurricane season will be “above-normal” this year, with far-reaching implications for airlines, cruise ships, and travelers in North America.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated its hurricane forecast to increase the number of named storms and major hurricanes it expects, as well as predicting a “higher likelihood” of an above-normal season.
In fact, the hurricane season that began June 1st and lasts until the end of November could be “the most active since 2010,” NOAA said in its forecast.
“This season has had a running start,” Ben Friedman, NOAA’s acting administrators, told reporters this month.
“We’re now entering the peak of the season when the bulk of the storms usually form,” added Dr. Gerry Bell, the lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center.
NOAA forecasters predict the 2017 hurricane season will be “extremely active,” with 14 to 19 named storms.
The outlook is based on warmer waters in the Atlantic and a reduced chance of an El Nino pattern forming, which can prevent storms from gathering strength.
That’s almost the total number of storms in an entire average season, NOAA said.
Four of the storms hit the United States, with Jose possibly the fifth to do so.
“As we enter the height of hurricane season, it’s important for everyone to know who issues evacuation orders in their community, heed the warnings, update their insurance and have a preparedness plan,” said FEMA Administrator Brock Long in a statement.
This is a developing story and will be updated…
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