Vigorous storm slamming Pacific Northwest less than a week before Christmas (with forecast video)

Truck plowing heaps of snow off a highway in Washington state.

A high-impact snow and rain storm is cranking up across the Pacific Northwest today, Dec. 19. The timing couldn’t be much worse with less than a week to go until Christmas. Holiday shipments on the ground and in the air will likely be delayed, and at least one carrier told FreightWaves yesterday that it is re-positioning some drivers to pick up freight in other regions so those drivers can get home in time to see their families.

The forecast hasn’t changed much since FreightWaves began reporting on the storm two days ago. A steady stream of moisture, known as an “atmospheric river,” will flow into the region over the next several days. From today through tomorrow, Dec. 20, the storm will dump one to three feet of snow in the high elevations of the Olympics in western Washington state, as well as the Cascades of Washington and Oregon. High elevation wind gusts could reach 90 mph in some spots.

Freezing rain will likely ice over roads on the I-84 and state route 35 corridors through the upper Hood River valley in northern Oregon. Up to one quarter of an inch of ice build-up could result in power outages and road closures. It’ll be risky for drivers going over Stevens Pass (US-2), Snoqualmie Pass (I-90), Blewett Pass (US-97), Loup Loup Pass (WA-20), Santiam Pass (US-20) and Hurricane Ridge. The storm will also impact the city of Mount St. Helens, Mt. Baker and Crystal Mountain ski areas and Mt. Rainier National Park. Check chain laws here for the latest updates on winter driving.

The valleys and lowest peaks from the I-5 corridor to the coast will get drenched by periods of heavy rainfall through Saturday, Dec. 21, from Seattle to just south of Portland. Rainfall totals of four to eight inches will be common. Rapidly rising rivers, creeks and streams could cause significant flooding that will continue after the rain stops. The downpours, falling onto very dry soils, may trigger landslides. The region has been abnormally dry since Thanksgiving, and is now in a moderate drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor report released today.

SONAR Critical Events: Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, 11 a.m. EST

To make matters worse, wind gusts of 60 to 70 mph will give truckers trouble on US-101. The winds may also result in property damage and beach erosion in some coastal communities.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service (NWS) in Seattle and Portland told FreightWaves that a storm of this duration and intensity is “about normal” for late December. However, this doesn’t mitigate the impacts.

Besides hazardous road conditions, short-term disruptions at the ports of Seattle and Portland are possible due to the high winds and heavy rainfall. It’s typically a slow time of the year for overall air cargo at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (ICAO code: SEA), but whatever Christmas and other holiday gifts are on their way to/from the Pacific Northwest may be delayed. Same goes for freight on Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) and BNSF (NYSE: BRK.A) railroads.

Shippers, carriers and brokers who subscribe to FreightWaves SONAR can locate these types of assets at potential risk of weather disruptions. They are shown as color coded dots and “doughnuts” inside the Critical Events platform based on the anticipated level of disruption, as shown on the map above, and are updated as conditions and forecasts change.

Other notable weather today, Dec. 19

Periods of heavy snowfall will also hit parts of the northern Rockies of Montana and Idaho this morning, fading this afternoon, with totals of 12 to 24 inches in the highest elevations. Drivers will need to be extra careful going over Lookout Pass on I-90, as well as on sections of US-95 and state route 200 in Montana.

Also, watch out for dangerous crosswinds the next couple days on I-25 and I-80 in southeastern Wyoming; in Montana tonight and Friday on I-15 from Great Falls to the Canadian border and on US-89 from I-15 to the Canadian border.Look for more weather updates on the FreightWaves website and social media accounts.