More snowstorms to disrupt Northwest US this week

Driver putting chains on her tires on snowy Oregon road.

The Northwest freight region remains volatile as copious amounts of snowfall continue to hit the Cascades and northern Rockies this week. Truckers will likely have to chain up and watch their speed. Shippers should expect ground delays, but disruptions are also possible in the air and on the tracks.

SONAR Critical Events and radar on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, 10 a.m. EST. Ongoing Pacific Northwest storm threat.

From today, Jan. 6, through tonight, totals of 1 to 2 feet of snow will pile up in many high elevations of the Washington and Oregon Cascades, as well as the mountains of northern Idaho and Montana.


In Washington, the heavy snowfall will hit elevations mainly above 3,000 to 4,000 feet. Conditions will turn slushy as snowfall changes to rainfall in some places this afternoon and evening. Look for additional snowfall accumulations up to 7 inches below 3,000 feet going over Snoqualmie Pass (I-90) and White Pass (US-12). Once the change to wet weather begins, rainfall could be heavy at times in the mountains.

Strong winds will pound some of the highest peaks, with gusts up to 60 mph possible along US-2 in the Cascade crest, from Coles Corner to Stevens Pass and Lake Wenatchee. In the southern Washington Cascades, gusts could be as strong as 40 mph in the Mount St. Helens area.

Rainfall will also be heavy in the lower slopes and valleys of western Washington today and tomorrow, including the I-5 corridor from Seattle to the Oregon border. This may result in areas of localized flooding, landslides, debris flows and potential roadblocks.


Eight to 14 inches of snowfall will accumulate today in the Cascades of northern Oregon, in  places such as Santiam Pass, Government Camp and Detroit on US-20 and US-26.

Idaho and Montana

Some of the heaviest snowfall in Idaho will slow down drivers in the mountains of the northern and central panhandle. The northern Rockies of western Montana won’t be a picnic either.

The high elevations of Idaho will get a large dose of 1 to 2 feet of snow through Tuesday night, Jan. 7, with 4 to 7 inches in many valleys. However, the Silver Valley – a narrow valley about 40 miles long just east of Coeur d’Alene – will only see 2 to 4 inches. Coeur d’Alene itself could see up to 5 inches of snowfall, with a few inches spreading across the state line into Spokane, Washington.

In Montana, snowfall rates could be as high as 1 inch per hour in the Bitterroot and Sapphire mountains, as well as in the western Glacier region. In some spots, wind gusts could create whiteout conditions before snowfall transitions to rainfall later today or this evening. Truckers could run into trouble on I-90 from Missoula to Bearmouth, as well as on several U.S. routes in the region.

Additional rounds of snowfall are in the forecast throughout the week at least through Friday, Jan. 10. Air cargo could be delayed at times at Seattle-Tacoma International (ICAO code: SEA) and Portland International (ICAO code: PDX) airports. Operations at the ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Portland will be interrupted intermittently, as will several oil/petroleum facilities and railroads in the region. Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) and BNSF (NYSE: BRK.A) have several tracks in the region. Trains will need to run slower at times due to the hazardous weather.

The storms may also make it difficult to load/unload freight at intermodal ramps. Based on the anticipated level of disruption, the assets at risk are color coded in SONAR Critical Events as shown in the map above.

Impact on freight

FreightWaves SONAR data shows that, in most freight markets in the Northwest region, capacity remains tight. This is indicated by the blue shading on the left-hand map below, showing the weighted rejection index (WRI). WRI is a combination of market share – a market’s outbound volume compared to the rest of the country – and weekly change in tender rejection rate – the percentage of electronically offered loads from shippers that have been turned down by carriers for any number of reasons.

Left: SONAR heat map of Weighted Rejection Index (WRI); Right: Critical Events and radar on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, 10 a.m. EST.

With more disruptive snowstorms likely across the Pacific Northwest this week, it may be difficult for drivers to get into the region to pick up loads from markets such as Spokane, Pendleton, Portland, Missoula and Medford. Nearby markets with possible available freight just outside the impact zone of the storms may be better bets. These would include Billings, Green River and Reno.

Other areas of snowfall today, Jan. 6

Several inches of lake effect snowfall will cover roads in upstate New York. The most persistent snow is likely to occur along I-81 from Watertown to Oswego, with totals up to 8 inches. Gusty winds could blow snow and reduce visibility.

Additional notes

Excessive winds will lead to a high risk of blow-overs across southern California, from Los Angeles to San Diego, as well as interior desert areas. Blow-overs are possible on portions of I-5, I-8 and I-10. Strong wind will also give drivers trouble on I-25 and I-80 in southeastern Wyoming and on I-25 from Wyoming into Colorado.

Have a great day, a wonderful weekend, and be careful out there.