Snowstorm coming to large Midwest freight markets this week (with forecast video)

Plow clearing snowy Michigan road, with cars and a tractor-trailer behind it.

A developing storm could have significant effects on Midwest freight markets in the coming days. Heavy snow and gusty winds will likely slow down truckers, as well as disrupt air cargo flows at airports.

SONAR Critical Events: Monday, Feb. 24, 2020; Great Lakes snowstorm

The setup

A low pressure system is in the process of intensifying across the Plains and will make a beeline toward portions of the Midwest and Great Lakes. Today, the storm will be a big snow and wind maker in parts of the Rockies, as well as some of the prairies in Montana, the Dakotas and Nebraska.

As the storm approaches the Midwest-Great Lakes, it may take a track that is farther south than previously forecast and now includes the Chicago metro area. The storm will slow down as it taps into some colder air. As a result, rain on the leading edge of the system will change to snow late tonight into early Tuesday, with snowfall persisting in some areas throughout Wednesday night.

This is shaping up to be a nearly 48-hour snow event for many locations in the potential impact zone. Snowfall totals could reach 6-12 inches from Davenport, Iowa and northern Illinois to South Bend, Detroit, and Toronto, Canada. Isolated spots of more than 12 inches are possible.

Additionally, there will be some moderate wind gusts, blowing snow and reduced visibility at times, but a major blizzard is not expected. Nonetheless, this system is looking noteworthy due to the long duration, intensity, and number of interstates that could be at risk — I-90, I-94, I-80, I-88, I-65, I-55, I-57, I-69 and I-75.

Impact on freight

Not only will this snowstorm likely slam the Chicago freight market, which is doing well in terms of market share, but it will also hit the adjacent Joliet, Illinois market, one of the strongest in the country.

SONAR Ticker: OTMS Tree Map

The latest FreightWaves SONAR data shows Chicago’s outbound tender market share (OTMS.CHI) at 1.85. This means that the Chicago market is currently handling 1.85% of the nation’s outbound freight volume among the 135 markets. But Joliet (OTMS.JOT) trumps that with 2.92%, the fourth-highest in the U.S, and an increase in outbound volumes of 12.2% over the past week. So, there seems to be plenty of loads available there.

Hopefully, carriers have arranged to pick up loads by this evening before the storm rolls into the region. Otherwise, they will have to wait until later in the week. Late-week could be a good time for brokers to check for any missed pick-ups they may be able to negotiate for higher profit margins. Shippers may be willing to pay top dollar on the spot market to get that cargo on a truck as soon as possible.

By early Thursday, most of the storm will be entering the Northeast region, where the heavy snow and wind will hit the Adirondacks, Green Mountains, White Mountains and Mahoosuc Mountains – areas that have seen their share of snowfall this winter. However, even colder air will move into the Great Lakes behind the storm, with no chance of a thaw for a few days. High temperatures will stay below freezing, with lows in the teens. Roads will remain frozen and slick, especially secondary routes, bridges and overpasses.

Have a great day, and be careful out there!