Major Midwest weekend winter storm still on track (with forecast video)

Plow on snowy Wisconsin highway.

Another snowstorm has closed a portion of two major highways in the Northwestern U.S., and a  potentially high-impact winter storm will arrive in the Midwest tonight. Freight movement delays and travel trouble for truckers will continue in these regions over the coming days.

Midwest mayhem

A high-impact winter storm will likely produce heavy snowfall, icy roads and blustery winds across portions of the Plains, Midwest/Great Lakes and New England. FreightWaves first reported on this potential storm a couple days ago, and the forecast hasn’t changed much since then.

SONAR Critical Events on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, 10 a.m. EST. Potential high-impact winter storm.

The storm will crank up later today and tonight in the Plains, taking an east-northeast path into the Midwest-Great Lakes areas Friday and Saturday, followed by New England Saturday night and Sunday. Parts of southern Canada will also be hit hard by snow and wind.

Snow accumulations from this storm will range from 4 to 8 inches in many areas, with pockets of 10 to 12 inches.

Some of the worst freezing rain may occur along the I-70 corridor from eastern Kansas to Missouri, where ice buildup of one-quarter to one-third of an inch is possible. There may be a few localized spots with one-half of an inch of ice.

Winds will also be an issue with sustained speeds of 20 to 30 mph, gusting to 40 mph. This will create low-end blizzard conditions that would not only slow down or stop trucks, trains and planes carrying freight, but the wind (and ice) could knock down tree limbs and utility lines, resulting in roadblocks and power outages.

Major interstates within the risk zone, besides I-70, include I-35, I-75, I-81, I-87 and I-90. The largest cities that will see the biggest impacts are Topeka, Kansas; St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri; Omaha, Nebraska; Des Moines, Iowa; Minneapolis; Milwaukee; Detroit; Cleveland; New York City and Buffalo, New York; Boston; and Toronto and Ottawa, Canada.

Besides major delays holding up drivers who can’t avoid the storm, it could disrupt other modes of freight transportation. Carriers, shippers and brokers can use FreightWaves Critical Events to keep track of assets such as airports, rails, oil/petroleum facilities and ports in the target zone of this or any high-impact/long-term weather situation. As shown on the FreightWaves Critical Events maps in this article, the assets are color coded based on the anticipated level of disruption. Weather forecast details are also available.

Impact on freight

The storm will also affect Madison, Wisconsin, a freight market with a tight capacity of reefers – climate-controlled trailers used to haul produce and other temperature-sensitive cargo like cheese. The demand for reefers is fairly high right now due to the need to haul Wisconsin’s high output of dairy products.

The latest FreightWaves SONAR data, updated this morning, show reefer outbound tender rejections (ROTRI.MSN) in Madison at 17.97%, 41 basis points higher than the national average (ROTRI.USA). The outbound tender rejection index (OTRI) is a measure of how many electronically offered loads from shippers are being turned down by carriers. This could happen for a number of reasons. If OTRI is rising, this means carriers are seeing more options and potentially higher rates available on the spot market.


Reefer tender lead times in Madison (ROTLT.MSN) are the fifth highest in the country, currently at 4.4 days. Lead time is the number of days between the acceptance of a load and when the load is picked up. The average length of haul for reefers (ROALOHA.MSN) is 667 miles, which means the best way for shippers to keep transportation costs down is to turn trucks quickly on their docks to ensure their regular carriers are unloading and reloading every day. Keep lead times extended as freezing temps will also increase demand for reefers from dry freight shippers.

Northwest nuisance

Once again heavy snowfall and gusty winds are slamming the Cascades of southern Washington, Oregon and northern California. The storm began Wednesday and resulted in accidents that shut down I-90 in Washington during the afternoon, in both directions, between North Bend and Ellensburg – a stretch of about 70 miles that may still be closed. This is according to a report from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

SONAR Critical Events and radar on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, 10 a.m. EST. Ongoing Northwest snowstorm threat.

A 60-mile stretch of US-2 remains closed between Skykomish and the Stevens Pass summit (milepost 64), but other sections of the highway have reopened, at least temporarily.

The Oregon DOT has reported that I-84 in the eastern part of the state is back open after the agency shut it down due to blowing snow and whiteout conditions.

As of this morning, no major problems have been reported on I-5 and I-84 in the Cascades, but conditions will remain hazardous all day and truckers will have to chain up. Freezing rain, along with snow totals of 4 to 10 inches are possible along I-84 in Oregon in places such as Hood River, Multnomah Falls and Cascade Locks. In California, 8 to 15 inches of snowfall could pile up along the I-5 corridor from just south of Weed to Mount Shasta. Some of the tallest peaks in southern Oregon and northern California could see up to 24 inches. Check chain laws here for the latest updates on winter driving.

Late today and tonight, snow will spread into the Sierra Nevada, fading by early tomorrow. This could cause significant delays on I-80 and US-50 between eastern California and the Reno-Lake Tahoe area, including Donner Pass and Echo Summit. By the time it’s over, 5 to 10 inches of snow will accumulate in the Mammoth Lakes areas, with 10 to 20 inches around South Lake Tahoe and Truckee and up to 24 inches on the Sierra crest. Watch out for blizzard conditions and low to no visibility at times. Winds will be howling, with gusts reaching 55 mph – up to 100 mph on the highest ridgetops.

More information on SONAR is available here. Have a great day, and be careful out there!

FreightWaves Market Expert Dean Croke contributed to this article.