Disruptive winter weather will hit dozens of states today through this weekend and possibly beyond. Snow, ice and wind will blast through the Midwest this weekend, with more periods of heavy snowfall in the mountains of the Northwest. In the South, the threat is for strong thunderstorms and possible tornadoes.
A major winter storm will impact parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes region this weekend. Precipitation will start as rain on Friday, changing to freezing rain and then snow on Friday night and Saturday as colder air moves into the intensifying system. The main impacts of ice, snow, wind and reduced visibility will occur Saturday through early Sunday. The storm will initially impact portions of the western Midwest – Missouri, eastern Kansas and southeastern Iowa – before it moves toward the Great Lakes – Wisconsin, northern Illinois and northern Michigan – later on Saturday. The storm will be done by Sunday morning in the Midwest and by Sunday evening in Michigan and adjacent areas of Canada.
Shippers, carriers and drivers should expect the most significant impacts in portions of Wisconsin, lower Michigan and adjacent areas of southern Canada, where 6 to 12 inches of snowfall will accumulate. As the storm cranks up, winds will become strong and gusty. This could result in areas of whiteout conditions as well as potential scattered power outages and roadblocks due to downed trees and utility lines. Blowing/drifting snow and reduced visibility could occur on and off for 24 to 36 hours.
Ice accumulations will be most significant in a swath from east-central Kansas through north-central Missouri, possibly extending close to the Chicago metro area and into central and southern portions of Michigan.
As for the major freight and transportation hub of Chicago, forecast models currently show the Windy City on the borderline of ice and heavy snow to the north and west of the city, with a mix in the downtown area and rain south and east of the metro area. As of this morning, it looks like downtown Chicago will not see the worst of this storm. However, a slight change in the track of the storm would change the impact zone shown on the FreightWaves Critical Events map above. This means the effects of the storm in Chicago and other parts of the impact zone could change. Look for updates on the FreightWaves website and social media sites.
Major interstates in the path of this storm include I-35, I-72, I-88, I-80, I-74, I-39, I-90, I-94 and I-75, affecting the cities of Kansas City, Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, the northern and western portions of the Chicago metro area, Quebec City, Montreal and Ottawa.
This is mainly an awareness and preparation situation. Impact on freight movement on a national level will likely be minimal. However, the storms will likely have a moderate/major effect on supply chains and business operations at the local and regional levels. Shippers and carriers should expect disruptions on roads, rails, runways and intermodal ramps during the course of the storm and possibly the day after it’s gone. These assets at risk are color coded in Critical Events based on the anticipated level of disruption.
Look for more mountain snowfall today and tonight scattered across the Cascades, Rockies and the Sierra Nevada. It will be heavy in some areas, with gusty winds producing occasional whiteout conditions. Drivers who cannot reroute should be extra careful on I-90 from western Montana to northern Idaho, as well as through the Cascades of Washington before reaching Seattle. The highway may still be quite slick from recent snowfalls, including over Lookout and Snoqualmie passes. The next car in this train of storms will have a bigger impact from tomorrow through at least this weekend.
Weekend snowfall totals of 12 to 24 inches are possible in the high elevations of the Washington and Oregon Cascades, in addition to the Rockies of northern Idaho and western Montana, mostly from Friday through Saturday afternoon. Another storm could arrive on Sunday. Winds will be howling and blowing snow around at times, reducing visibility.
Additional periods of snowy and windy weather are likely in these areas next week. Carriers may have to routinely reroute drivers who are trying to reach the Northwest from the Midwest southward. Weather shouldn’t be a major problem on I-80 in Nebraska prior to early Friday or on most of I-80 from Wyoming over to Salt Lake City. From there, drivers can catch I-84 to the Pacific Northwest, where snowfall should be light at the interstate level along the Washington-Oregon border.
Spokane is an up-and-coming market in the region. The latest FreightWaves SONAR data, updated this morning, shows outbound tender volumes (OTVI.GEG) continued to grow in the Spokane market this week as freight volumes reached 32.42 index points. This pushed Spokane’s headhaul score (HAUL.GEG) up to 6.58. This means more freight available for pickup, while a backhaul market is one in which there’s less freight with extra capacity of trucks.
According to FreightWaves Market Expert Donny Gilbert, Spokane is a split market between dry van and reefer freight with outbound dry van tender rejection rates (VOTRI.GEG) falling to 1.47% – a signal that spot market rates have dipped below contracted rates – and outbound reefer tender rejection rates (ROTRI.GEG) rebounding to 21.83% after an early January decline. Reefers are temperature-controlled trailers, and rejection rate is the percentage of electronically offered loads by shippers that are turned down for any number of reasons.
Long-haul (more than 800 miles) loads carry the highest tender rejection rates (LOTRI.GEG) at 7.03%, followed by mid-haul (250 to 450 miles) loads (MOTRI.GEG) at 2.19% and tweener (450 to 800 miles) loads (TOTRI.GEG) at 2.12%. Falling tweener rejection rates indicate that carriers’ load options have narrowed. Shippers in the Spokane market have expanded tender lead time (OTLT.GEG) to 3.35 days, but the same pattern was seen in January 2019 just before tender lead times were cut to 2.50 days. Lead time is the number of days between the time a load is accepted and when it is picked up.
Gilbert said brokers should accept any contracted dry van freight they are offered from the Spokane market to Southern California since tender rejection rates have fallen below 2%. Gilbert also suggested brokers search the spot markets for additional reefer freight but increase their bids over market rates since rejection rates are over 20% and starting to climb. Snow will be moving into the area on Friday, so brokers should increase their bids accordingly for loads that pick up Friday through next Monday. Spokane could see several inches of snowfall Friday through Friday night.
While the mountains of the Northwest get buried with snow, the lowlands and valleys in the Washington Cascades will get drenched with occasional downpours. Rainfall over the past couple of weeks has increased soil moisture to high levels across western Washington state. This will put extra pressure on soil instability and could trigger additional landslides this weekend.
The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Seattle said Wednesday that as many as six landslides/mudslides had been reported recently in western Washington, including in Grays Harbor County, where sections of State Route 109 remain closed. Grays Harbor County is on Washington’s northwestern coast.
A line of strong to severe thunderstorms is likely to develop in eastern parts of Texas and Oklahoma on Friday afternoon or evening, moving across the lower Mississippi Valley, Tennessee Valley and Gulf Coast on Saturday. There’s a good chance of scattered straight-line wind damage as well as some tornadoes. The most intense storms could produce flash flooding too.
The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) has issued an enhanced risk for severe storms on Friday from eastern Texas to the Arklatex area, in addition to parts of central and southern Louisiana. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest risk, enhanced risk is a 3. But regardless of risk level, drivers should be prepared to stop or slow down at times.
Have a great day and be careful out there!