Fleets in Florida, Georgia and Alabama have been hard at work taking steps to protect their drivers and vehicles from the dangerous winds and floods expected with Hurricane Michael.
As of 9 p.m. tonight, the category three storm, which has been forecast to make landfall in Northwest Florida on Wednesday afternoon, had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Storm surge in Panama City is expected to be between six and thirteen feet. Residents here have been under a mandatory evacuation since Monday.
For Tom Andriopoulos, vice president of operations at PetroChoice, keeping up with storms like Michael is key to keeping drivers and vehicles out of harm’s way while trying to meet customer needs.
Andriopoulos worked with drivers in severe weather during hurricane Florence last month, where a few of his facilities were shut down while he and his team worked to keep drivers and their vehicles high and dry.
“We shut down several locations throughout that storm,” Andriopoulos said. “We were impacted throughout the Carolinas. As the storm made its way we shut down locations that were impacted and reviewed where we were at to get people back to work.”
Unfortunately, getting back to work wasn’t easy in some areas where routes remained flooded for days following intense rain from Florence. Those kind of setbacks can hurt business, but staying informed and planning ahead is key to keeping drivers safe and minimizing disruption.
“We like to follow the local news reports and see what the weather patterns appear to be,” Andriopoulos said. “We really try to focus on getting deliveries made to get us out of those areas. We’re delivering into a location right now that’s projected to be impacted (by Michael), so we’ll be making and pushing all deliveries that we possibly can early this week and probably wrap them up by Tuesday, if that’s not too late depending on how quickly this thing moves.”
Calling ahead to customers in a weather-impacted area is also helpful in determining trip safety, Andriopoulos said. Keeping up with announcements from transportation departments regarding road closures is also a plus, especially given the problem some GPS devices have in not keeping up with current road conditions.
Following Florence, as rivers continued to rise and flooding grew worse, North Carolina Department of Transportation issued a special advisory warning drivers that GPS systems were routing users into areas NCDOT was not recommending for travel.
“I know on our end we try to evaluate that information beforehand,” Andriopoulos said. “We typically look at what the department of transportation is saying for that particular state. We try to identify whether there are any road closures and work with our dispatch group at that point to identify whether or not we can get into some of those areas.”
PetroChoice has a fleet of roughly 250 trucks, mostly tankers and box trucks which deliver a variety of products including engine, transmission and industrial lubricants, DEF fluid, air filters, antifreeze and window wash.