Planning terminal operations in unique weather environments

Ryan Fulton's picture
Ryan Fulton, Senior Product Manager – Marine & Offshore, DTN
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With the LNG market growing by 4-6% annually, safely shipping this valuable resource is becoming increasingly important for countries and corporations around the world. With shipping on specialised tankers being the most efficient way to transport LNG, weather can drastically impact the safe shipping operations, particularly in certain parts of the world. Each LNG terminal location has its own unique set of weather challenges, so it is crucial that LNG terminal and transport companies have access to weather forecasting and monitoring tools in order to make critical safety and operational decisions.

Whether it’s in the Gulf of Mexico or the Adriatic Sea, every terminal is carefully monitoring the weather to ensure that conditions do not exceed predetermined thresholds. The unique weather phenomena and geography of each region combined with the design limits of the terminals determine the thresholds for optimum safety and operational efficiencies at each terminal.

As an example, for terminals located in South America, specifically near Trinidad and Tobago, the islands can offer protection from wind and waves. However, wintertime weather systems can send large swells that can be more than one meter tall for periods of 15 seconds or more in a southerly direction. These swells often force ships to leave the dock temporarily so as to not damage loading docks, equipment, and the ship itself. Accurate weather insights can ensure operators schedule operations to take advantage of optimal conditions, and avoid unnecessary risk.

LNG terminals based more inland, especially those on the Gulf Coast are impacted most by winds, waves and currents that can make manoeuvring ships difficult, particularly near the entrance of the ship channels. Likewise, significant rainfall can also create difficult conditions for ships to manoeuvre when docking and while loading and offloading. This rainfall causes swelling of the river resulting in higher currents and tide differentials, which can also cause significant safety concerns.

The Adriatic Sea comes with its own weather and geography challenges that can test the safety and efficiency of LNG terminals. Terminals off the coast of Italy are particularly affected by a variety of weather phenomena during the winter season, which spans from September or October until April or May. Strong Bora winds with 40-50 knot gusts can come from the mountains in Slovenia making it impossible for ships to safely dock. Likewise, Sirocco winds can set up over the sea and bring swell surges from the southeast. The area also experiences severe thunderstorms in the summer that causes brief, but intense increases in winds and waves, plus the additional threat of lightning, which can lead to significant problems.

Hurricanes, cyclones and tropical storms also present dangers to LNG terminals around the world, including off the coast of Australia. This area also has strong potential for severe thunderstorm squalls. Sometimes the surges following the storms are worse than the initial storm.

While there are many predictive measures that can help forecast when tropical cyclones will strike, having the longest possible lead time is critical, particularly for offshore LNG terminals that need to evacuate non-essential staff and equipment before a storm hits. While a long lead-time is critical for planning, every hour that the terminal is shut down means that the company operating it is losing significant financial resources. Accurate weather forecasts allow terminal operators to make safety decisions that minimise downtime and financial losses.

Private weather companies provide services that are invaluable for protecting LNG company assets. They provide up-to-the-minute and localised forecasts that are accurate in predicting winds, thunderstorm squalls, wave amplitude and periods and surges that occur before and linger after the storm has vacated the area. This information allows ship crews to coordinate their arrival to avoid major weather events. This allows the loading and offloading of LNG to occur safely and efficiently.

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