Snowstorms to hit two corners of US this weekend (with forecast video)

Tractor-trailers on a snowy highway in Washington state.

Rough weather will challenge truckers in opposite corners of the country this weekend. Two more rounds of heavy snowfall and strong winds will slam the Pacific Northwest, where freight markets have been quite volatile; and snow will also cover much of New England. Drivers will have to chain up. They, along with shippers, will have to prepare for possible delays.

SONAR Critical Events and radar on Friday, January 3, 2020, 10 a.m. EST. Target areas of Pacific Northwest weekend storms are highlighted.

Snow and rain from earlier today, Jan. 3, is fading across the Cascades in Washington and the northern Rockies in Idaho and Montana, but roads will remain very slick. After a fairly short break, the next storm will dump heavy snowfall in many of the same areas later tonight and tomorrow, Jan. 4, as well as in the Cascades of Oregon and northern California. This will be followed by yet another round on Sunday.

Many high elevations above 4,000 feet in the northern Washington Cascades will see 10 to 18 inches through tomorrow. Look for totals of 8 to 12 inches between 3,000 and 4,000 feet, and 4 to 8 inches between 2,000 and 3,000 feet. Areas in the southern Washington and northern Oregon Cascades will be hit with 6 to 12 inches of new snowfall, in addition to wind gusts up to 45 mph. Six to 12 inches could pile up in the southern Oregon Cascades, as well as the Crater Lake area, along with wind gusts of 45 to 50 mph. After another respite Saturday night, another storm may produce at least several more inches of snowfall on Sunday.

A far as interstates, mountain passes on I-90 will be affected the most. Problems could also arise on US-2. Possible trouble spots include, but are not limited to Stevens, Snoqualmie, Lookout, Lolo, Willamette, Santiam, McKenzie and Marias passes; Crater Lake National Park; and Mount St. Helens.

Strong winds will result in periods of blowing snow and white-out conditions, in addition to potential power outages and roadblocks.

Meanwhile, down below, a few inches of drenching rain this weekend could cause localized flooding and mudslides in some lower slopes/valleys mainly west of the I-5 corridor in Washington and Oregon. But prior to the weekend rain, winds will be howling today and this evening along the Pacific Coast of Washington and north of Seattle in Puget Sound. Gusts from the south-southeast are forecast to reach 50 mph at times in places such as Friday Harbor, Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Port Townsend, Clearwater, Aberdeen and Hoquiam.

Impact on freight

While much of the country is stabilizing this week, the Pacific Northwest remains unsettled. FreightWaves SONAR data shows outbound rejection rates are up week-over-week in the Spokane (OTRI.GEG), Twin Falls (OTRI.TWF) and Pendleton (OTRI.PDT) markets, primarily due to a reefer shortage. Outbound rejections represent the percentage of electronically offered loads from shippers that are turned down by carriers for various reasons. Reefers are climate-controlled 53-foot trailers.

Reefer rejection rates out of Pendleton have risen over 1,300 basis points since last week to settle over 35%. Whereas rejection rates for long-haul loads needing to go 800 miles or more (LOTRI.PDT) are the highest for the market at 21.5%, loads moving between 100 and 450 miles have had the largest weekly jump in tender rejections. The weather can be challenging in this part of the country at this time of the year as systems often drop heavy snows across the mountains. The storms this weekend could increase volatility in some Northwest markets.


Lead times (OTLT.PDT) are still more than three days as shippers have pushed orders into next week. Carriers should check road condition forecasts if you are journeying into the area. Lead time is the number of days between the acceptance of a load by a carrier and when the load is picked up.

Reefer carriers heading into this area next week should look to the spot market to find higher-paying freight. Most of this freight will be short- to mid-haul moves. It may not get you all the way out of the region, but there should be enough to string together a few loads. Don’t get greedy at this time of year. Keep your trucks moving whenever possible.

Because of the storms, 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 could 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 map near the top of this article.

Other notable weather today, Jan. 3

Parts of the South will be soaked by more heavy rainfall today. There’s a chance of additional localized flash flooding and river flooding from Mobile and the Florida Panhandle all the way to North Carolina. Isolated tornadoes and severe winds could pop up from the Florida Panhandle to South Carolina. The rain will spread into the Mid-Atlantic and southern New England tonight, with snow from upstate New York to northern New England from Saturday through Sunday morning.

Snowfall of any consequence will occur mostly north of I-95, sparing the large metropolitan areas of the Northeast region. However, a few inches could accumulate along I-95 in Maine. The highest totals, possibly 12 inches or more, would likely hit the high elevations of the Adirondacks in upstate New York, in addition to the Green, White and Mahoosuc mountains of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, respectively. Many other parts of interior New England could see totals of 4 to 8 inches.

Additional notes

Sections of I-80 in Wyoming remain closed as this morning due to winds, drifting snow and black ice. Winds will be an ongoing issue today and this weekend. The risk of blowovers will be high on I-80 over the summit between Cheyenne and Laramie, as well as between Cheyenne and Sidney; on  I-25 from the Colorado border to Wheatland, north of Wheatland to Casper, and near Bordeaux between Chugwater and Wheatland. Gusts could reach 65 to 75 mph.

Today through Saturday night, watch out for excessive winds in Montana along I-15 and portion of I-90. Gusts ranging from 50 to 90 mph will result in an elevated risk of blowovers. This includes places such as Logan Pass, Marias Pass, Heart Butte, Bynum, Choteau, Cut Bank, Great Falls, Kings Hill Pass, Helena, MacDonald Pass, Rogers Pass, Kalispell, Whitefish, Billings, Lewistown, Glasgow, Judith Gap and Havre.

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

FreightWaves Market Expert Zach Strickland contributed to this article.