Another series of potent snowstorms in the Pacific Northwest begins today, pounding some high elevations in the Cascades with at least 2 to 3 more feet of snowfall this week. Other mountain ranges of the western U.S., as well as portions of the Great Plains, will also receive a visit from Old Man Winter.
Like boxcars in a train, periodic snowstorms have been lining up and hitting the Pacific Northwest, as well as southwestern Canada, since the beginning of the year. The jet stream – the winds aloft that steer weather systems across the country and the world – continues to flow over the region. It will send storm after storm until it changes position.
Today’s storm, which will really get cranking this afternoon, could dump 12 inches of snow or more in Stevens Pass, Mount St. Helens, the northern Oregon Cascades and some high elevations of southern British Columbia through tomorrow. The Cascade crest will potentially receive the most snowfall of up to 18 inches. Most lower elevations will see up to 8 inches or less.
Wind gusts up to 45 mph will cause blowing snow and reduced visibility in some areas, and Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 in Washington may become another trouble spot for truckers.
At least 2 to 3 additional feet of snowfall are possible in parts of the Cascades this week. Snow depth across the region and the percentage of the region covered in snow are both higher than this time last year, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The snow-water equivalent is also a bit higher. In other words, it takes a little more snow to melt down to an inch of water than it did a year ago, meaning the snow has been a little drier this season.
Lower elevations, valleys and lowlands of Washington and Oregon could get soaked with up to 3 inches of heavy rainfall through tomorrow. As some rivers and small streams rise, the result may be localized flooding, mudslides and landslides. This includes portions of the I-5 and US-101 corridors.
Snow, rain and wind could lead to delays at airports, intermodal rails and ports from Portland to Vancouver.
Rockies and Plains
Look for on and off snow showers today through Wednesday across the Rockies of northern New Mexico and western Colorado, as well as the Wasatch range in Utah and the mountains of Wyoming. Some of the heaviest snowfall will hit the Tetons, Sierra Madre and Snowy ranges in Wyoming, with up to 12 inches possible in some spots. Drivers may run into delays on I-80.
Other parts of Wyoming and northern Colorado, north of I-70, will see lesser amounts. However, gusty winds in these areas will result in blowing snow and occasional whiteout conditions.
The Salt Lake City freight market, where I-15 could be messy this week, is rather volatile. Based on the latest data from FreightWaves SONAR, updated this morning, outbound tender rejection rates (OTRI.SLC) – the percentage of electronically offered loads by shippers turned down by carriers – fell back to Earth after an unusually active period in mid-January. Both van (VOTRI.SLC) and reefer (ROTRI.SLC) loads experienced unusual tightness over the past few weeks as rejection rates breached 20% out of the market. Reefers are temperature-controlled trailers, while vans are not.
Capacity was not as tight as the Christmas holiday period, when OTRI topped 22%, but it was close. Van rejections jumped from 8.6% on Jan. 13 to 12.7% on Jan. 17 but have now fallen back to 9.2%. The more volatile reefer rejections jumped from 27% to 42% in the same period but have slid back to 25% to start the week.
Salt Lake is still tighter than the national average and rejection rates have fallen back under 7% for the first time this year. However, the loosening trend is much stronger out of the Western market. Most of the loads moving out of the Salt Lake area travel more than 450 miles due to the nature of the geography. Tweener loads (TOTRI.SLC) of 450 to 800 miles are still the tightest of these, with rejection rates remaining over 22%.
Boiled down, brokers should accept fewer loads into Salt Lake due to recent market behavior or increase rates into the area. If they find themselves heading into the market without a load waiting, they will need to be more aggressive than a week ago. Reefer carriers should still be able to find some freight at a decent price. Drivers just need to be careful of the occasional bursts of snowfall that could slow down deliveries.
Several inches of snowfall plus gusts up to 50 mph will cause problems in northern New Mexico today and tonight. Raton Pass on I-25 will be dicey and dangerous at times.
Tonight and tomorrow, moderate to heavy snowfall will move eastward into the Great Plains. Five to 9 inches could pile up from the northern Texas panhandle to central Kansas. Delays are likely on I-35 from Oklahoma City to Wichita, Kansas, and on secondary routes in Dodge City and Hutchinson, Kansas. Pockets of freezing rain are possible, making some roads extra slick.
Other areas of winter weather today
Light to moderate lake effect snow will fall across parts of upstate New York and interior New England today and tonight. Travel impacts should be minimal, but drivers should watch for slick spots on I-81, I-87, I-89, I-90, I-91 and I-93.
Have a great day, and be careful out there!
FreightWaves Market Expert Zach Strickland contributed to this article.