Winter storm keeps trucking across Eastern US (with forecast video)

FedEx truck on snowy Pennsylvania highway.

It’s day two of the wintry mess across the East. Snow, sleet, slush and ice will likely delay drivers from Ohio to southern Maine the rest of today, Dec. 17. Some drivers may even become stopped in their tracks.

Overall, expect hazardous road conditions in major metropolitan areas like Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford, Providence and Boston, affecting several major highways including I-70, I-76, I-80, I-81 and I-95. Delays in air and rail cargo are possible, too. These assets at risk of disruptions are color coded in the FreightWaves SONAR Critical Events map below. Orange indicates a medium level of disruptions.

SONAR Critical Events: Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019, 10 a.m. EST. Target areas of ongoing Midwest and Northeast mixed precipitation storm highlighted.

The highest snowfall totals of five to eight inches will spread from upstate New York to interior New England. In some areas where freezing rain develops, ice buildup of one- to two-tenths of an inch could make roads impassable. The weight of the ice may also bring down utility lines and trees, resulting in scattered power outages and roadblocks. The storm will end overnight, except for residual snow showers in parts of New England.

Other areas of snowfall today, Dec. 17

Heavy lake effect snowfall will return this afternoon to portions of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) as well as western lower Michigan, lasting through tomorrow, Dec. 18. Totals of four to seven inches will be common in areas east of Marquette in the UP, including Sault Ste. Marie, with up to 10 inches possible in places such as Gaylord and Cheboygan in northern lower Michigan. Accumulations will be lower to the south, from Traverse City to Grand Rapids. Gusty winds will create blowing snow and occasional white-out conditions.

Other notable weather today, Dec. 17

High winds will keep rocking across southeastern Wyoming, gusting to 65 mph at times through late this afternoon. There is an elevated risk of blowovers along I-80 near Arlington and Elk Mountain, and along I-25 near Bordeaux between Chugwater and Wheatland. The Wyoming Department of Transportation has been periodically closing parts of I-80 and I-25 to light, high-profile vehicles.

Santa Ana winds will be a major issue through this evening across southern California on I-5, I-8, I-10 and I-15 from Los Angeles to San Diego. The most powerful gusts of 60 to 75 mph will hit portions of the Los Angeles County mountains as well as the high elevations just east of San Diego. Meanwhile, gusts of 40 to 55 mph will blow through areas such as Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Santa Clarita, Burbank, Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo, Malibu, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Long Beach, San Bernardino, Riverside, Anaheim, Fullerton and Mission Viejo.

Looking at the latest data in FreightWaves SONAR, the Los Angeles market has seen recent increases in outbound tender volumes (OTVI.LAX) – essentially, the amount of freight available in the market – and dry van tender rejection rates (VOTRI.LAX) – the percentage of electronically offered loads for dry vans turned down by carriers. A dry van is a common 53-foot trailer. At the same time, rejection rates for reefers – 53-foot climate-controlled trailers – have slightly decreased. Shippers, carriers and brokers who subscribe to SONAR have access to these and many more important market indicators that are updated daily.


Los Angeles is a year-round headhaul market, meaning there’s more outbound freight than inbound. Truck capacity shifts in from surrounding markets to cover the surplus in outbound freight volumes. The increase in freight volumes on December 13th tightened capacity, and pushed spot market rates over contracted rates in the Los Angeles region. Shippers in the market have responded by increasing dry van tender lead times (VOTLT.LAX) from 1.86 day to 2.04 day, and reefer tender lead times from 3.41 days to 3.54 days. Lead time is the length of time between when a load is booked until it is picked up. Shippers will increase tender lead times to ensure capacity for their loads, and to fight rising freight costs.

Based on what is happening in the Los Angeles market, brokers should search the spot markets for long-haul loads that pick up from the Los Angeles market. Tender rejection rates are trending upward, tender lead times are expanding, and long-haul (more than 800 miles) tender rejection rates (LOTRI.LAX) have peaked at 11.27%, well above contracted rates in the region. Carriers using a rate tool seven to 10 days behind may not realize the jump in spot market rates, which could increase your margins.

Today’s Santa Ana wind event should fade by late this evening and won’t have a major or long-term impact on the Los Angeles market. However, drivers may be taking a chance deadheading there today in order to pick up loads in this high-volume market. Deadheading is when drivers haul empty trailers. Waiting until tomorrow to arrive would be safer. The risk of blowovers is elevated because of the winds, and less-than- truckload (LTL) drivers – those with lighter loads – may have issues leaving the Los Angeles area. 

Looking ahead

Heavy snowfall will come back to the Cascades in Washington state and Oregon from Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 18 through Friday, Dec. 20. One to three feet could pile up in many locations from Willamette National Forest northward to Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Simultaneously, lower slopes, valleys and coastal areas could get drenched with occasional torrential rainfall, including cities from Seattle, Washington to Portland and Medford, Oregon. Coastal areas could also get battered by strong winds.

SONAR Critical Events: Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019, 10 a.m. EST

Early forecasts are calling for three to six inches of total rainfall for western Washington state, with the highest amounts in the Olympics and Cascades. Snow levels will begin around 3,000 feet, rising to around 5,000 feet by late Thursday, Dec. 19 into Friday, Dec. 20. The timing of this change will increase/decrease the degree of potential flooding. Nonetheless, the National Weather Service (NWS) says the rainfall will likely be sufficient enough to cause flooding impacts on several area rivers by the upcoming weekend. Some impact could be widespread.

The northern Oregon coast range and the southern Washington Cascades appear to be the focus of precipitation. However, this type of atmospheric event is notoriously difficult to precisely predict more than 24 to 36 hours in advance. Further complicating the issue is the timing of the changing snow levels, which are difficult to pinpoint at this time. The forecast should be more fine-tuned tonight. Look for updates on the FreightWaves website and social media accounts.

FreightWaves Market Expert Donny Gilbert contributed to this article.