Hurricane Matthew is set to hit Florida this evening (6 October). Copyright: NASA Earth

Hurricane Matthew is set to hit Florida this evening (6 October). Copyright: NASA Earth

As the US braces itself for the imminent arrival of Hurricane Matthew, retailers are being warned of supply chain delays that could occur in the aftermath of the storm.

Supply chain experts are cautioning retailers in the run-up to the busy holiday season that the hurricane could have an impact on shipments and orders that may become delayed or re-routed. This may not be welcome news after the National Retail Federation (NRF) recently predicted holiday retail sales could increase by a solid 3.6%.

"With hurricane season in full swing and Hurricane Matthew quickly approaching the southern US coast, it drives the question of how much this year's hurricane season will impact and affect shipping routes and production throughout the Caribbean, Mexico and southern US," says Mark Burstein, president of sales, marketing and R&D for NGC Software.

"An increase in holiday traffic and a fairly active hurricane season will test supply chain agility and flexibility for retailers and manufacturers with operations along hurricane impact areas to maintain delivery schedules and manage alternative sourcing."

Hurricane Matthew has already hit the Caribbean, killing at least 22 people and displacing thousands in Haiti, while four have been killed in neighbouring Dominican Republic. Florida is now preparing for a "direct hit" this evening (6 October) and what the state governor says could be "catastrophic" damage, before the storm moves up the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas tomorrow and into the weekend. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted a "normal to above-normal" hurricane season this year, with up to eight hurricanes predicted in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. 

"Severe weather like Hurricane Matthew, heavy snowstorms in the months to come, freezing rain, and spring floods all affect the fulfilment supply chain," says Burstein. "Without undermining the severity of these extreme weather conditions, it is critical retailers are equipped to bounce back as fast as possible to not only protect the business, but support the people in the affected area and local economy."

According to US media reports, the US coast guard has closed the Port of Miami and the South Florida Container Terminal to all vessel and truck traffic. All other regional ports have been set to port condition X-Ray, which demands container terminals be "unstacked to below four tiers and asks vessels over 500 gross tons to depart the port for safer waters".

As the hurricane's path becomes more clear, other ports are expected to update their operating status.

Back in 2012, Hurricane Sandy swept along the US East Coast causing an estimated US$20bn worth of damage and forcing US retailers to close up to 10% of their stores.

Counting the retail cost of Superstorm Sandy