Heavy snowfall slowing down Denver freight market (with forecast video)

Plows clearing a snowy Colorado highway.

Relentless snowfall across the Rockies will not let up over the next couple of days, setting back freight movement a bit in the Denver market.

Nine inches of snowfall have fallen at the Denver International Airport (ICAO code: DEN) since Feb. 3. That’s almost double Denver’s average February snowfall of 5.7 inches.

Some areas along Interstate 70 in Colorado, west of Denver, have seen 12 to 24 inches of snowfall, with up to 36 inches in the highest elevations just north and south of the highway, as well as along U.S. and state routes in the area.

SONAR Critical Events and radar: Monday, Feb. 10, 2020; Rockies snowfall

A good shot of heavy snowfall is forecast to return to Colorado tonight through Tuesday, mainly south of I-70, spreading into New Mexico. However, this includes parts of the Denver freight market. Heavy snowfall will also hit eastern Arizona in addition to western and northern Texas. Denver could pick up another 4 inches, with high elevations of the central and southern Rockies getting 8 inches or more. Check chain laws here for the latest updates on winter driving.

The persistent snowfall has led to avalanches and treacherous road conditions along I-70. The weather has also resulted in a significant rise in tender rejection rates as carriers are more hesitant to let drivers traverse the Colorado front range. The impact of the snow is twofold in this area — the roads are slick and skiers and snowboarders travel en masse to get to the powdery conditions, which further congests the roads.There were multiple closures of I-70 over the weekend due to avalanches and whiteout conditions.

According to the latest data in FreightWaves SONAR, outbound tender rejection rates in the Denver market (OTRI.DEN) — the percentage of electronically offered loads by shippers that are turned down by carriers — climbed from 9% to over 12% in the past six days. This gives Denver the 21st-highest OTRI level among the nation’s 135 markets, as well as one of the highest Weighted Rejection Index values (WRI.DEN) in the U.S. WRI is the product of a maket’s weekly change in OTRI and its market share, its level of outbound freight volume, based on an index, relative to the other 134 markets.


Outbound tender volumes (OTVI.DEN) have not been the main cause, rising only 1.4% over the past week, although down 8% since the end of January. Denver is still running a surplus in terms of inbound freight versus outbound freight, with a Headhaul Index value (HAUL.DEN) of -7.48. The situation should reverse itself once the weather clears.  

For carriers, check for spot freight out of Denver while keeping an eye on conditions along I-70. Carriers should increase their margins on anything moved out of this market on the spot side due to the increased risk. Anything heading east should be all right, and the weather should be more favorable in this region during the second half of the week.

Impending winter storm up north

Heavy snowfall will fade across the interior Northeast Monday afternoon.

However, the storm in the Rockies could maintain strength as it moves into portions of the Midwest, Northeast and southern Canada later this week. This will not likely turn into a major winter storm, but it will be enough to cause supply chain and business operations issues on local and regional levels for a few days.

The initial outlook for snowfall totals in the target zone — which stretches from Michigan and northern Indiana into New England — is 4 to 8 inches in western parts of the zone and 6 to 12 inches in eastern portions. Strong winds, but not up to blizzard speeds, will cause some blowing snow along with reduced visabilities. At this time, the outlook for Toronto is about 3 to 6 inches of snowfall, with 4 to 8 inches in Montreal.

SONAR Critical Events and radar: Monday, Feb. 10, 2020; Midwest-Northeast winter storm

Temperatures during and just after the storm will rapidly drop and many locations will experience their coldest readings so far this winter. This is not saying much since this winter has been so warm in the eastern U.S. The shot of cold air on the back end of this storm will be fairly brief, but lows across the impact zone Friday morning will range from the single digits below zero to the single digits above zero. Highs on Friday will only reach the single digits and teens in interior New England, with a Saturday morning low possibly dropping into the teens below zero. So even after the storm ends Thursday evening, roads will remain very slick due to lingering snowpack.

Major interstates that may give truckers trouble are I-75, I-80, I-86, I-87, I-90, I-94, far northern sections of I-95 and the Trans-Canada Highway. In general, the impacts will be moderate in the western portion of the zone and more significant in the eastern portion of the zone. Carriers and shippers should keep an eye on the weather in these areas, particularly the cities of Detroit; Cleveland; Buffalo, New York; Burlington, Vermont; and Toronto and Montreal, Canada. If carriers can’t get drivers into these areas before the storm, wait until the end of the week, if possible. 

Other notable weather

Meanwhile, periods of heavy rainfall could result in more flooding across the South this week, from eastern Texas to the Tennessee and Ohio valleys. Watch out for potential spotty interstate closures, with roadblocks more likely on secondary routes and access ramps.

Occasional thunderstorms could produce intense downpours and gusty winds in some spots like Texarkana, Texas; Memphis, Chattanooga, Nashville and Knoxville, Tennessee; Tupelo and Jackson, Mississippi; Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia; Asheville, North Carolina; Spartanburg, South Carolina; and eastern Kentucky.

Have a great day, and be careful out there!