Key freight market on bubble of severe storm risk (with forecast video)

SAIA tractor-trailer heading down highway with dark storm cloud across the sky.

Storms have been tearing through part of the nation’s heartland all week, and Mother Nature will be rather unkind again today.

SONAR Critical Events and radar: Wednesday, July 15, 2020, 7 a.m. EDT; Severe thunderstorm risk areas

Since Monday, July 13, the National Weather Service (NWS) has received almost 150 reports of wind damage and large hail, as well as a couple of tornadoes. The severe weather blew down trees, knocked out power and wrecked homes and businesses in at least a dozen states.

Severe thunderstorms have hit portions of the Mountain Prairie and Midwest freight regions (see map above) almost every day since mid-June, including a deadly tornado in Minnesota last week.

Wednesday, areas from the southern Rockies to the Great Lakes will  be under the gun again, as well as the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, southern and eastern Kansas, much of Missouri and a large part of Illinois.

Freight regions. (Source: FreightWaves)

A slow-moving frontal boundary, along with plenty of warmth and humidity, will trigger the thunderstorms. Wind shear – increasing wind speed with height and/or changes in wind direction with height – plus much colder air aloft will create supercells, which are thunderstorms that contain strong rotating updrafts. Supercells often produce tornadoes, destructive straight-line winds and large hail. However, the primary threats for Wednesday are wind and hail. The NWS expects only a few isolated tornadoes to touch down.

The NWS classifies a thunderstorm as severe if it produces any of the following based on radar or eyewitness reports:

• Winds of at least 58 mph (50 knots).
• Hail at least 1 inch in diameter (quarter size).
• A tornado.

Severe storms don’t typically cause major/long-term disruptions in freight movement on the roads, unless they result in accidents, but drivers should expect at least minor delays when they run into these storms. Conditions can change quickly and may catch drivers off guard if they aren’t prepared.

Some of the cities in the potential impact zones include, but are not limited to: Pueblo, Colorado (on Interstate 25); Amarillo, Texas; Guymon, Oklahoma; Springer, New Mexico (on I-25); Kansas City, Jefferson City and St. Louis, Missouri; as well as Champaign, Bloomington and Peoria, Illinois.

Joliet, Illinois, just south of Chicago, is a key freight market on the bubble of the severe storm risk today.

SONAR ticker: OTVI tree map

Despite recent declines in its Outbound Tender Volume Index, which moves in proportion to the total observable outbound volume, Joliet ranks eighth out of 135 nationwide markets as far as amount of outbound loads offered by shippers. This means a good number of drivers may be heading into Joliet today to pick up freight.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.