Train of Northwest snowstorms keeps rolling (with forecast video)

Plows and salt trucks on a snowy road.

Broken record alert — another storm is moving through the Northwest. This means the Cascades will be slammed with more snow or rain, depending on location, resulting in some delays in freight movement.

SONAR Critical Events and radar: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2019, 11 a.m. EST. Ongoing Northwest winter storm threat.

Portions of the Washington Cascades could receive almost 12 inches of new snowfall today in elevations above 4,000 feet. This mainly affects ski resort areas. Gusty winds and whiteout conditions will be possible in a few spots. The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a winter weather advisory for these areas. Some high elevations of British Columbia in southwestern Canada may also see heavy snowfall.

Look for lesser snow accumulations at Stevens Pass (US-2) and Snoqualmie Pass (I-90), as well as in the northern Oregon Cascades. However, because of frequent snowstorms in these areas over the past several weeks, packed snow and ice could cause issues at times.

During the winter, carriers often reject loads for a specific reason — the weather. As temperatures drop, shippers who would normally ship freight in dry vans request more and more reefers to keep temperature-sensitive freight, such as cosmetics, chemicals, water and beer, from freezing. Reefers are climate-controlled trailers that allow drivers to set a desired temperature for the inside of the trailer. According to FreightWaves Market Expert Zach Strickland, only 10-15% of trailers in the U.S. are reefers. All the others are dry vans, which are not climate-controlled.


The latest FreightWaves SONAR data, in the map above, shows Northwest Region outbound tender rejections for reefers (ROTRI.URNW) as well as inbound tender rejections for reefers (RITRI.URNW) at 19.39% and 20.91%, respectively. Each is higher than its national average by 5.5 to 6.5 percentage points. “Tender rejections” refers to the percentage of electronically offered loads by shippers that carriers turn down for various reasons. In this case, it’s likely because of high demand for reefers and not enough of them to go around. Carriers who travel regionally on a regular basis often react the same into and out of that region, reflected in the similar levels of outbound and inbound rejections.

Tonight, the snowfall moves into northern Idaho, western Montana and northeastern Oregon, fading by midday tomorrow as it heads to the northern Great Plains. Drivers could run into a few problem spots on the I-84 and I-90 corridors tonight. But as of this morning, the NWS has not posted any winter weather alerts for hazardous travel conditions.

In the western slopes of the Washington Cascades, snow levels could rise to 6,000 feet. So as the high elevations turn white, the lower elevations, valleys and lowlands of western Washington will get drenched. Some rivers, creeks and streams could rise quite rapidly. Localized flooding, mudslides and landslides may lead to a few roadblocks on I-5 from Everett to Seattle and Tacoma, along the US-101 corridor, and on secondary routes in between.

Besides drivers having to slow down or stop due to potential roadblocks, the harsh conditions may delay air cargo at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (ICAO code: SEA). The storms may also slow down loading/unloading at intermodal ramps in the region, and periodic disruptions in supply chains and business operations at the local and regional levels are likely.

Other areas of winter weather

A batch of light snow — up to 2 inches of accumulation — along with pockets of light freezing rain will move across Missouri, northern Arkansas and southern Illinois, ending by sunset. This includes the St. Louis area.


Yesterday, this system dumped more than a foot of snow in part of the Hutchinson, Kansas, freight market, which also includes the cities of Wichita, Goodland, Dodge City and Salina. FreightWaves SONAR data show that this led to a spike in outbound tender rejections (OTRI.HUT), reaching almost 9% yesterday. This was probably because carriers didn’t want to send trucks there to pick up freight, knowing the storm was coming. No additional snowfall is forecast for the Hutchinson market this week.

Additional notes

Strong crosswinds will give drivers a tough time in California today through tomorrow. This includes the Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs areas. Northerly gusts of 50 to 70 mph will make deadheading risky on I-8, I-10 and I-40.

SONAR Critical Events: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2019, 11 a.m. EST. Southern California high wind threat.

Have a great day, and be careful out there!