Early-week snow storm returning to Pacific Northwest (with forecast video)

Plow clearing snowy highway in Idaho.

For the first time since early March, a significant snow storm will hit the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Over the next two to three days, gusty winds and abundant snowfall could slow down freight flows in the Seattle, Portland and Spokane markets.

SONAR Critical Events and radar: Monday, Mar. 30, 2020, 10 a.m. EDT; Pacific Northwest snow storm

Setup and snowfall amounts

A cold front will sweep across the region today, followed by a cool, moist upslope wind flow across the Cascades and northern Rockies into Tuesday. Snow levels will begin lowering later today with significant snow accumulations through Wednesday. In some areas, precipitation will start as rainfall, changing to snowfall later today. Snow levels could eventually be as low as 1,500 to 2,000 feet in elevation in some areas.

Total snowfall accumulations could reach 12 to 24 inches in the northern Cascades of Washington State into the Cascades of British Columbia, Canada, Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 90, Stevens Pass on US-2, Mount St. Helens, and Crater Lake National Park. Look for several inches of snowfall on parts of I-84 in Oregon, with light, wet snow in the lower elevations along I-84.

As the storm moves inland, atmospheric pressure will drop, producing a strong pressure gradient and winds gusts of 30 to 45 mph in parts of the Oregon Cascades. Blowing snow will cause periods of reduced visibility and whiteout conditions.

While heavy snowfall hits the mountains, the lowlands and lowest elevations adjacent to the Cascades will get drenched with several inches of heavy rainfall. Thunderstorms could occasionally dump excessive rain in some spots, with potential flash flooding along the I-5 corridor.

Impact on freight

Seattle is the largest freight market in the snowstorm’s impact zone. According to FreightWaves SONAR, Seattle’s otobund tender volume index (OTVI.SEA) is rebounding after dropping a few days last week. The OTVI is an index that moves in proportion to the total observable outbound tender volume among the 135 freight markets nationwide, and it’s based on trucking volumes on March 1, 2018.

A good measure of a market’s stability/volatility is the SONAR outbound tender rejection index (OTRI) – the percentage of electronic, contracted loads offered by shippers that carriers turn down. There are two primary reasons why carriers would begin to increasingly reject loads. First, they literally may be at full utilization and not have any excess capacity to take on the load;. or, second, carriers may reject loads if they have more attractive alternatives available in the form of higher rates in the spot market or from another broker or shipper.


In the case of Seattle’s current rejection rate (OTRI.SEA), it is at 7.2% – less than half the national average – indicating a balanced market. As a rough rule, a loose market (high capacity) is defined by tender rejections in the low- to mid-single-digit range, a balanced market by tender rejections in the high single digits, and a tight market by tender rejections above 10%.

Based on Seattle’s volume and rejection rate, carriers may be able to find freight there and shippers may be able to pay rates that are close to contract rates. However, getting there before Wednesday or Thursday could be challenging because of the weather.

Have a great day! Please stay healthy and be careful out there!