Snowstorm aiming at Midwest, Northeast freight markets (with forecast video)

Tractor-trailer skidded off side of snowy Wisconsin road.

Another snowstorm could disrupt freight flows in a couple of regions over the next two days, with more frigid conditions to follow.

SONAR Critical Events and radar: Monday, Feb. 17, 2020; Midwest/Northeast snowstorm

A low pressure system in the central Great Plains will move through the Midwest the rest of today and tonight, dumping moderate to heavy snowfall mainly in the northern Great Lakes. The heaviest snowfall should remain north of Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit.

Snow accumulations of 2 to 5 inches could impact drivers on several major interstate highways, including I-80, I-90 and I-94, just to name a few. Localized snow totals of 6 to 8 inches are possible, especially in northern lower Michigan, eastern portions of Michigan’s upper peninsula, and southern Wisconsin; some spots in southeastern Canada near the U.S. border could see more than 8 inches.

In some areas, snow may change to freezing rain/rain then back to snow, leading to slick and slushy roads.


Very cold air will accompany the storm developing in the Midwest. As temperatures drop, shippers that would normally ship freight in dry vans typically request more and more reefers to keep temperature-sensitive freight – cosmetics, chemicals, water and beer, to name a few – from freezing and becoming damaged. This is known as “protect from freeze,” or PFF. Reefers are climate-controlled trailers that allow drivers to set a desired temperature for the inside of the trailers.


Reefer capacity remains an issue in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. As a result – and according to the latest FreightWaves SONAR data – carriers have been rejecting fewer outbound reefer loads (ROTRI.EAU) in Eau Claire over the past week or so. Also, in response to the tight capacity, Eau Claire’s shippers have extended tender lead times (ROTLT.EAU) to 4.73 days, almost 1 day above the national reefer average (ROTLT.USA) of 4.09 days. Tender lead time is the number of days between the time a carrier accepts an offered load from a shipper and the time the carrier picks up the load; in other words, it measures how far in advance shippers are offering their freight in order to get it covered.

For carriers that can find outbound reefer freight in Eau Claire, (PFF) protocol will be crucial. From the Dakotas to the Great Lakes, and in parts of the Northeast, outside temperatures will be subfreezing day and night Tuesday through Thursday, with early morning lows below zero. This includes the Eau Claire market.

SONAR Ticker: FREEZE map

The FreightWaves SONAR map directly above shows the forecast daily average temperatures for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The areas in dark and deep blue represent the coldest conditions, with warmest weather in the yellow.

Northeast nuisance

After the winter storm makes its mark in the Midwest, it will pick up a little steam as it enters the Northeast on Tuesday.

The storm will strengthen a bit as it heads to upstate Pennsylvania and New York, as well as interior New England on Tuesday. Snow totals could exceed 8 inches in the highest elevations of the Adirondacks, Green Mountains, White Mountains, Mahcoosuc Mountains and parts of southeastern Canada. Gusty winds will result in blowing snow and reduced visibility at times. 

Most of the snow will miss I-95 south of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. So the storm will mainly affect drivers on regional runs across New England, or running long-haul loads (800 miles or  more) from New England to the Midwest and Northwest.

Speaking of the Northwest, heavy snowfall today will be scattered across the Cascades, Rockies and the Wasatch Range, along with strong winds and blowing snow. This includes areas in the Mountain Prairie region, too. Whiteout conditions are possible not just in higher elevations, but in the plains of southeastern Wyoming, where wind gusts could reach 50 mph.

Have a great day, and be careful out there!