Powerful storms could slam largest European ports this week

Port of Rotterdam, Netherlands.

A series of intense storms could disrupt services at some of the busiest ports in Europe this week. Strong winds and rainfall as well as high surf could delay ships waiting to load or unload.

SONAR Critical Events: Monday, March 9, 2020, 4 p.m. EDT; Europe windstorms

Two systems are forecast to move across the continent starting late Monday, continuing through Thursday. Both storms may become very strong with unusually low barometric pressure as they move from the North Atlantic into the U.K. and then across Northern Europe.

The main impact will be periods of tropical storm force winds of 40 to 50 mph (65 to 80 kilometers per hour) in some areas, with gusts potentially reaching 60 mph or greater. Windstorms can occur throughout the year in Europe but are most frequent between October and March, with peak intensity in the winter months.

Since the impending storms will move fairly quickly, periods of heavy rain will be short-lived and major flooding is unlikely. However, downpours could cause isolated flooding in some western sections of the U.K. and parts of the mainland’s western coast. Coastal locations will have extremely rough surf along with some coastal damage and flooding due to large waves.

The ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg — the three busiest container ports in Europe — are in the potential impact zone of the storms. FreightWaves SONAR, below, shows high concentrations of ships circled in red at these ports. They may be trying to load or unload before the first storm arrives.

SONAR Ship Locator: Monday, March 9, 2020, 4 p.m. EDT

These ports rank 11th, 13th and 19th worldwide, according to the World Shipping Council, handling a combined 33.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo in 2018. According to its website, the port of Rotterdam is the largest container port in Europe. It handled almost 153 million tonnes of container cargo, 211 million tonnes of liquid bulk and more than 8.7 million total containers in 2019.

This week’s storms could also slow freight flows and supply chains at the ports of London and Felixstowe in the U.K., as well as Bremen in Germany.

Besides likely disruptions in port operations, these storms could slow or stop freight movement on roads, rails and runways. Airports most at risk are Heathrow (IATA code: LHR) in London, Shiphol (IATA code: AMS) in Amsterdam, and Frankfurt’s am Main Airport (IATA code: FRA). The storms could also knock out electricity across many areas, with tree limbs and power lines blocking routes.