Blizzard could hit parts of high-volume Denver market (with forecast video)

Plows clearing snowy Colorado highway.

Snow plow drivers are working overtime to clear roads in the Sierra Nevada. This is day four of a major storm that has dumped more than four feet of snow in some spots. Look for one more day of heavy snowfall and gusty winds in the Sierra Nevada, as well as the Cascades of northern California and southern Oregon, before the storm heads to the Rockies tonight.

SONAR Critical Events and radar: Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2020, 10 a.m. EDT

As of this morning, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) had again closed portions of I-80 between Colfax and the Nevada border – a stretch of about 75 miles that includes Truckee and Donner Pass. With an additional 6 to 12 inches of snowfall possible in these areas today, chain controls are up. More road closures are possible on I-80, as well as US-50 in the Lake Tahoe area.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued winter storm warnings for northern California. Heavy snowfall totaling 5 to 10 inches could impact truckers on part of I-5 from Mt. Shasta City to Dunsmiur, a distance of nearly 60 miles. 

The storm will exit the Sierra Nevada tonight as it heads toward the Rockies. Scattered snow showers will develop across the Rockies on Wednesday. Then the storm picks up steam, dumping heavy snowfall and creating blizzard conditions Wednesday night and Thursday.

Some of the heaviest snowfall will hit the high elevations of western Colorado, along parts of the I-70 corridor between Denver and eastern Utah. Blizzard conditions could crank up in Colorado north of Denver and the I-70 corridor, especially into southeastern Wyoming, which is part of the Denver freight market. The storm should fade across the Rockies Thursday night, but it may spread freezing rain, sleet and heavy snowfall across the upper Midwest Thursday and Friday.

Impact on freight

Typically, carriers will reject fewer loads in the few days leading up to a major snowstorm, attempting to grab as much freight as possible before roads become potentially impassable. However, this isn’t the case with the Denver market. Outbound tender rejections (OTVI.DEN) – the percentage of outbound loads offered by shippers that carriers are turning down – have increased dramatically over the past week. This is shown by the green line in the FreightWaves SONAR chart below (right-hand side).

SONAR Ticker: OTVI monthly change tree map (left); SONAR Tickers: OTVI.DEN, OTRI.DEN (right)

It is likely that carriers are continuing to reject loads because volume has been climbing steadily over the past several weeks and remains elevated (blue line on the chart). Capacity is strained, and carriers can’t keep up with the demand. Right now, Denver has the 16th-highest outbound volume (OTVI.DEN) among the 135 freight markets in the United States. Also, its volumes have increased by 56% over the past month, circled in red on the “tree map” directly above (left-hand side).

Other weather today

There’s a decent chance of severe thunderstorms popping up across parts of Texas, from Ft. Stockton and Midland to Abilene and Wichita Falls. Isolated tornadoes are possible, along with spots of large hail and damaging winds. Occasional torrential rainfall could lead to localized flash flooding and a few roadblocks along the I-10 and I-20 corridors.

SONAR Critical Events and radar: Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2020, 10 a.m. EDT

Have a great day, and be careful out there!