Empty-trailer ban continues as blizzard slams interior Northeast (with forecast video)

Tractor-trailer heading down snow-covered highway.

Empty trailers have been banned from a large stretch of the New York State Thruway (Interstate 90) due to high winds in the Northeast. Gusts up to 60 mph will make it too risky for truckers to haul empty trailers, known as “deadheading,” through the area. The ban is in both directions between the Lackawanna Toll and the Pennsylvania border, milepost 430.5 to milepost 496.0.

The ban was reported on the FreightWaves website shortly after the New York State Thruway Authority announced it Wednesday evening. The ban started at 3 a.m. EST Thursday and continues until further notice.

SONAR Critical Events and radar: Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020

Blizzard conditions will continue to slam the eastern Great Lakes and interior Northeast today and this evening, as well as southeastern Canada. The core of the storm will then head to the Canadian Maritime Provinces overnight.

Today, up to 12 inches of snowfall could pile up in places from Cleveland, Ohio to northern Maine. Winds will howl at 45 to 65 mph, so blowing snow will cause very low to no visibility at times on portions of several other interstate highways, including I-79, I-81, I-86, I-87, I-89 and I-91.

Power outages are possible as a result of downed electrical lines, and roadblocks are possible due to downed tree limbs.

Strong winds, along with lingering lake effect snow showers, will continue Friday and Saturday  (February 28 and 29) in higher terrain areas from northeastern Ohio to upstate New York. Look for an additional 1 to 3 feet, with the highest three-day totals of 3 to 4 feet in the Tug Hill Plateau in upstate New York.

Besides the empty trailer ban in New York State, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has temporarily reduced the speed limit on I-86 and I-90 in Erie County.

PennDOT is urging drivers to avoid unnecessary travel, but those who must keep trucking will have to slow down to at least 45 mph. Also, commercial vehicle traffic is restricted to the right lane during the speed reduction.

The restriction is in place for all lanes in the following roadways:

• Interstate 90 – Ohio state line to the New York state line

• Interstate 86 – New York state line to the Interstate 90 interchange

Impact on Freight

Most markets in the storm’s impact zone have little freight leaving or entering them. This is evident when looking at the Headhaul (HAUL) index in FreightWaves SONAR, in map form below.

A positive score means there’s more outbound freight than inbound, called a “headhaul” market, appearing in blue or purple. Negative scores indicate where there’s more inbound freight than outbound, called a “backhaul” market, and show up in varying shades of red. Carriers like headhaul markets because there are places where the most loads are available for their drivers to pick up, preferably right after a drop-off in the same market.


Markets that are white/close to white in color, like most across the interior Northeast, are neither headhaul or backhaul. This means, as mentioned earlier, there’s little to no freight entering or leaving these markets. So right now, most of the freight is confined to the region. The exceptions are the Cleveland and Buffalo markets, which have fairly high headhaul scores (HAUL.CLE, HAUL.BUF), at 21.38 and 27.45, respectively. So, hopefully, carriers who booked loads in Cleveland and Buffalo were able to pick them up prior to today to avoid getting stuck in the storm, or shippers were willing to extend their lead times, allowing carriers to pick up the loads once the weather and road conditions improve.

Overall, the blizzard’s impact will mostly be on local and regional freight flows, with not much effect on a national level.

Have a great day, and be careful out there!