Severe thunderstorms, snowstorms to begin messy weather week across US

Satellite animation of the lower 48 states.

The third week of December will be rough for many truckers across the U.S. From snow and ice to severe thunderstorms and high winds, our road warriors will need to chain up and keep their wiper blades moving.

SONAR Critical Events: Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, 12 p.m. EST. Target areas of two-day Midwest and Northeast mixed precipitation storm highlighted.

The messy weather will be a challenge for many drivers from the middle of the country to several eastern states the rest of today, Dec. 16, through tomorrow, Dec. 17. Moderate to heavy mixed precipitation – snow, sleet, rain and freezing rain – will produce icy, slushy, hazardous conditions from eastern Kansas to St. Louis, Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, today. The wintry precipitation will spread into Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, northern New Jersey, New York City and southern New England from this evening into tomorrow, fading tomorrow evening.

Several inches of snow could accumulate, along with one- to two-tenths of an inch of ice buildup. Delays are likely, with potential closures along several major interstate corridors, including I-64, I-65, I-70, I-75, I-81 and I-95. Scattered power outages are possible due to the weight of ice on utility lines.

Shippers, carriers and brokers can use SONAR Critical Events to locate assets at risk of disruption from significant weather such as this storm. In the map above, the assets are color coded based on the anticipated level of threat. In this case, a few assets under high risk in the St. Louis area are St. Louis Lambert International Airport (ICAO code: STL), Port of St. Louis and Union Pacific Railroad (NYSE: UNP). These are colored in red. Assets in the U.S. Northeast, colored in orange as of this morning, are at a medium risk of disruption. However, these may change to red (high risk) as the storm heads toward these areas tonight and tomorrow.

The storm will be hitting the up-and-coming Columbus, Ohio, freight market. Based on the latest FreightWaves SONAR data in the chart below, updated this morning, Columbus is the nation’s ninth-largest outbound volume market in the country and outbound rejection rates – the percentage of electronically offered loads turned down by carriers – continue to be at some of the highest levels of the year. The Outbound Tender Rejection Index (OTRI.CMH) broke through 11% late last week and remained there this past weekend. Demand is partially the cause as the Outbound Tender Volume Index (OTVI.CMH) has been averaging 10% higher after Thanksgiving compared to the month leading up to the holiday. These indices are updated daily.


Long-haul of more than 800 miles and short-haul volumes of 100 to 250 miles (LOTVI.CMH, SOTVI.CMH) are the biggest parts of the increase in demand, with both continuing to rise over the past few weeks. Retail is still a driving force of freight volumes, with companies like Amazon struggling to keep up with consumer orders this year. Many of these loads will have elevated service demands with Christmas nine days away.

Carriers should look to the load boards out of Columbus if they are in need of freight. Carriers should make sure to charge more for anything requiring tighter service windows than usual. These last two weeks of the year are critical to making up for lost revenues earlier in the year. Just don’t lose track of the inclement weather moving into the area today. This could make those service requirements more difficult to meet.

Other notable weather today, Dec. 16, and tomorrow, Dec. 17

Farther south of the wintry weather, heavy rainfall may cause areas of flash flooding today and tonight from the central Gulf Coast all the way to the southern Appalachians. This includes places from New Orleans to Nashville, Tennessee, as well as Lexington, Kentucky, and Charleston, West Virginia. Thunderstorms could trigger tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail from Louisiana to central Mississippi and western Alabama. This isn’t unusual in the South. The secondary severe thunderstorm season for this region is from late fall into early winter. The primary season is March through May.

SONAR Critical Events: Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, 12 p.m. EST. Best chance for severe thunderstorms Dec. 16 in red-shaded area; next best chance in orange-shaded area; lowest chance in yellow-shaded area.

High winds will make deadheading risky today through tomorrow on I-5, I-8, I-10, I-15, US-101 and the Pacific Coast Highway across most of southern California, from Los Angeles to San Diego. Gusts of 45 to 65 mph from the east/southeast will give LTL drivers trouble in places like Bakersfield, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, San Bernardino, Temecula and El Cajon. Crosswinds will also be problematic on I-25 and I-80 in southeastern Wyoming where gusts from the west could reach 65 mph. 

Looking ahead

Lake effect snow will return to the Great Lakes states Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 17, through Wednesday, Dec. 18. Not a major storm, but many of the usual spots like northern Wisconsin, upper and lower Michigan, Cleveland, and Erie and Buffalo, New York, will likely be in the line of fire. It’ll be breezy, but wind gusts should stay below 40 mph.

Heavy snowfall will also come back to portions of the Cascades in Washington state, Oregon and northern California, as well as the northern Rockies in Idaho and Montana. This will probably start on Wednesday afternoon or evening and may last through at least Friday, Dec. 20. Simultaneously, some lower slopes, valleys and coastal areas could get drenched with occasional torrential rainfall, including cities from Seattle, Washington to Medford, Oregon. Coastal areas could also get battered by strong winds.

Early forecasts are calling for three to six inches of total rainfall for western Washington state, with the highest amounts in the Olympics and Cascades. Snow levels will begin around 3,000 feet, rising to around 5,000 feet by late Thursday, Dec. 19. The timing of this change will increase/decrease the degree of potential flooding. Nonetheless, the National Weather Service (NWS) says the rainfall will likely be sufficient enough to cause flooding impacts on several area rivers by the upcoming weekend. Some impact could be widespread.

FreightWaves Market Expert Zach Strickland contributed to this article.