Snowstorms returning to western freight markets this weekend (with forecast video)

Tractor trailer on a snowy road.

Major changes in the weather are coming this weekend to some Western freight markets that have had a break from big snowfalls since early this month.

The last major snowfall in Salt Lake City was a daily record 8.6 inches on Feb. 3. The old record was 7 inches in 1936. Denver’s last major snowfall was 5 inches on Feb. 12, and Grand Junction has reported only about half an inch for the month so far.

These cities themselves probably won’t get much snowfall this weekend, but keep in mind that their respective namesake freight markets also contain the high elevations surrounding the cities. It’s these areas that will be directly impacted by the storm, with possible trickle down effects for the markets.

A low pressure system in the Pacific will begin creeping into the Southwestern U.S. late Friday night, gathering moisture and energy through the weekend. The storm will produce heavy valley rain and mountain snow in portions of Southern California, southern Nevada and the Four Corners states has posted winter weather alerts.

SONAR Critical Events: Friday, Feb. 21, 2020; weekend winter weather advisory in Mountain Prairie freight markets

As of Friday morning, it looks like the highest snowfall totals — possibly 12 inches or more — will hit the highest elevations of southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah, south of Interstate 70. This includes the La Sal and Abajo mountains, the Grand and Battlement mesas, and the San Juan Mountains. Light to moderate snowfall could slow down drivers a bit on portions of Interstates 15, 70 and 80 that are in the path of the storm. The positive take away — the snowfall will be spread over a 36- to 48-hour time period instead of coming in one quick punch.

The Denver, Grand Junction and Salt Lake City markets are still rather volatile. One indication of this is the amount of outbound freight being turned down by carriers, known as the outbound tender rejection index (OTRI) in FreightWaves SONAR. This is the percentage of offered loads by shippers that carriers are rejecting for any number of reasons.


Even though the level of rejections has been slowly falling in the Salt Lake City market (green line in the chart directly above), it still remains high at 11.4%. The rejection levels in the Denver and Grand Junction markets have been steadily rising in recent days, now at 14.67% to nearly 16.93%, respectively. When rejection rates are above 10%, this means usually carriers have more options for choosing loads. So then they can go to the spot market and charge rates that are much higher than contract rates.

Other areas of weekend snowfall

The mountains of San Bernardino County, California, as well as the Sheep Range and Spring Mountains in southern Nevada, could see several inches of snowfall this weekend. This should have little to no impact on interstate travel, but secondary roads could become quite slick.

Also, heavy snowfall will come back to the Cascades of Washington and Oregon, especially on Sunday, in addition to the Rockies of northern Idaho and western Montana. Totals of more than 12 inches are possible on the tallest peaks. Lookout, Snoqualmie and Stevens passes could become trouble spots.

Additional notes

Temperatures are well below freezing Friday morning in parts of the Southeast hit by rain and snow on Thursday into early Friday morning. Any residual moisture/snow on roads may have turned to ice, so drivers will need to be super careful.

SONAR Critical Events: Friday, Feb. 21, 2020; freeze warning in Georgia and Florida

Unusually cold weather for late February will seep into the Deep South, from southeastern Georgia to Jacksonville and Gainesville, Florida. Sub-freezing temperatures as low as 27 degrees are possible later Friday night and early Saturday, and the National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a freeze warning for these areas. Drivers hauling temperature-sensitive loads who have to park in these areas overnight will need to find a way to keep their freight from becoming damaged.