Note: High hurricane risk calculated from a point density analysis of the daily location of all hurricanes on a scale of 1 and above on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale observed between 1980 and 2020 (N=135,380). Area of tropical storm formation accounts for 95% of all tropical storms.
Source: NOAA, International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS).
Hurricanes represent a significant potential disruption to maritime shipping and port operations. Their impacts on ports are subject to distinct geography with a concentration of risks. Tropical storms emerge in intertropical convergence zones just north of the equator for the Atlantic Ocean and on both sides of the equator for the Pacific Ocean. A tropical storm may develop into a hurricane (or typhoon in Asia) with sustained winds above 100 km/hr and can move beyond the formation areas and make landfall. High winds with the associated precipitations and tidal effects can substantially disrupt and damage coastal activities, including ports et their terminals. Another important characteristic of hurricanes is their seasonality, with peak activity usually between June and October. The cycle is more acute in East Asia, with a greater number of hurricanes and a wider distribution of the seasonality (typhoons can occur year-round).
About 38% of all the global container port activity occurs in areas subject to high hurricane risk. Coastal China, South Korea, Japan, and the American Eastern Seaboard are the most potentially disrupted areas with high container port activity levels. In addition to disrupting and stopping port activity, hurricanes can damage port equipment and superstructures. Yard activity can be disrupted with toppled containers and flooder areas, damaging cargo and equipment. Connections with the hinterland can also be damaged, such as with flooded road and rail connectors. On some acute occasions, port infrastructure such as piers can be damaged. A container port usually takes two to three days after a category 1 hurricane to resume full operations. If a container port is a transshipment hub, the disruptions caused by a hurricane can be extensive for the schedule integrity of maritime shipping networks and could favor the use of alternative hubs.
The Pearl River Delta is one of the world’s most prominent concentrations of manufacturing and container shipping activities and is located in an area of high typhoon risk. It was accounting to close to 20% of the global container port activity. In 2018, typhoon Mangkhut was particularly damaging, forcing the port of Hong Kong to close for two days. Most shipping lines skipped port calls in southern China as the delay accumulated at ports was more than four days.