High winds rocking some western freight markets (with forecast video)

Tractor-trailer flipped over on side of highway.

Fierce winds are still pounding parts of the Plains, in some of the usual trouble spots for truckers – namely Wyoming and Montana. It’s been a bumpy ride in portions of these states for the past day or two, and the weather won’t let up until late this afternoon and evening.

Southeastern Wyoming is notorious for wild winds, even in the absence of snowstorms. Although snow hasn’t been falling there the past two days, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) shut down sections of Interstate 80 because of a ground blizzard. A ground blizzard happens when strong winds kick up snow off the ground, sending it swirling into the air. This can happen under clear skies, often reducing visibility and causing whiteout conditions. A ground blizzard is possible again today.

SONAR Critical Events: Wednesday, Mar. 4, 2020, 11:00 a.m. EST; High wind threat

Westerly wind gusts in southeastern Wyoming could reach 60 to 70 mph. Deadheading – hauling empty trailers – or carrying light loads will be most risky along the I-25 corridor between Glendo and the Colorado state line. This includes the cities of Laramie, Cheyenne and Wheatland. Sections of I-80 will be troublesome, too, between Rawlins and Cheyenne. WYDOT has temporarily banned light, high-profile vehicles from I-80 between Laramie and Walcott, a stretch of about 80 miles.

Gusts of equal proportion are likely in central and eastern Montana. The worst crosswinds will be along I-15 from Butte to Helena, Great Falls and the Canadian border. Drivers may also have issues on parts of I-90 from Bozeman to Billings, as well as I-94 from Billings to Miles City. Other problem areas include Cut Bank, Havre and Glasgow. Besides the risk of rollovers, blowing dust will reduce visibility at times.

Impact on freight

Most of the freight markets in the impact zone of the strong winds have very low outbound volumes. This is evident in the latest FreightWaves SONAR data. The outbound tender volume index for the Billings and Missoula, Montana markets (OTVI.BIL, OTVI.MSO) are among the lowest in the country, at 3.58 and 3.74, respectively. These values move in proportion to the total observable outbound tender volumes in each of the 135 freight markets.

Their low values, appearing in white on the SONAR map, mean there aren’t many loads for carriers to pick up there. So the high winds will mainly affect long-haul drivers carrying freight 800 miles or more between the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.

Southeastern Wyoming is part of the Denver market, which has been growing recently. However, most of the outbound freight is likely to be in the Denver metropolitan area, which is more densely populated. Drivers picking up loads in Denver who have to head north, in addition to long-haul drivers between the Midwest and the West Coast, need to be extra careful of the Wyoming winds.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, truck traffic on I-80 in Wyoming averaged 10,000 per day in 2015, the latest data available. The same goes for I-90 in Montana.

Other weather impacts

Heavy rainfall will soak the South, mainly along and south of I-20 from eastern Texas to southern Georgia. Besides possible flooding, there’s a chance for thunderstorms, isolated tornadoes, large hail and severe winds across the Gulf Coast.

SONAR Critical Events: Wednesday, Mar. 4, 2020, 11:00 a.m. EST; Severe thunderstorm threat

The potential impact zone includes Austin and Houston, Texas; Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; Tallahassee, Florida; and Valdosta, Georgia.

Also, a light snow-rain mix may have minor impacts today across the Washington Cascades, northern Rockies, a few parts of the Midwest, and northern New England.

Have a great day, and be careful out there!