Plan ahead and be aware — Part I

A crew change in New York Harbor often involves a routine ride over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. But sometimes it isn’t so routine.

Hurricane Isaias recently provided a great example of a serious mental disconnect. Isaias, by then a tropical storm after raking the East Coast from Florida to North Carolina before moving inland, tracked just west of the New York City metro area on Aug. 4.

All of the usual weather warnings for a tropical cyclone had been provided: strong and gusty winds, heavy rains, thunderstorms, flash-flooding, dangerous lightning, etc. None of these conditions would be unexpected in such circumstances. The exact timing of when they would hit is the only variable.

Despite the known presence of Hurricane Isaias and all that comes with it, some truck drivers were somehow caught off guard by the strength of the wind when they drove across the Verrazzano Bridge at the entrance of New York Harbor. Wind gusts peaked in the early afternoon at near-hurricane strength.

Wind speed increases over water and at higher elevations because of reduced friction. So, if it’s already blowing hard as you approach the bridge on the Staten Island or Gowanus expressways (the interstates that feed onto the bridge), you can be certain that conditions on the bridge decks, which are well over 200 feet above the Narrows, are only going to get worse. Many crew-changing tugboaters discovered this driving to or from their yards. Nevertheless, the truckers went for it. It didn’t work out so well. First a box truck toppled, and less than an hour later, four tractor-trailers flipped over.

There’s a basic, individual duty to adequately plan ahead and maintain situational awareness. Nonetheless, one of the truckers said, “Why did they let anyone go if they knew the storm was coming?”

That’s a fair question that deserves a detailed answer. But a more important question is why did a professional truck driver, who knew or should have fully known that Isaias would soon hit, try to drive an empty trailer across the bridge anyway?

About the author

Joel Milton

Joel Milton has worked aboard fishing boats, pilot boats, Coast Guard cutters and small boats, dredge tenders, offshore crewboats and supply boats, towing vessels, a small container ship, and a wide variety of small craft including an inflatable yellow “ducky” The Piker.

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