Weather bomb explodes on Northeast, disrupting travel and freight shipments

A lone truck travels down I-95 in Rhode Island during the heights of the storm, as seen from a RI DOT traffic camera.

At least 23K shipments have been disrupted

A weather bomb hit the East Coast over the past two days and it has left a mark that will take shippers several days from which to recover.

“This is a storm we will be talking about for a decade or more,” Jon Davis, chief meteorologist with supply chain risk management firm Riskpulse, tells FreightWaves. “There are so many things that are unique with this storm.”

The winter storm, which dropped small amounts of snow in places not used to snow, such as northern Florida, on Wednesday, exploded into a major blizzard as it moved into the Northeast on Thursday. The storm left six inches of snow in Charleston, SC, and a foot or more throughout the Northeast. At the height of the storm, snowfall rates were 3 inches an hour in Rhode Island and 1-2 inches hour in New York City.

The East Coast has received a break from the storm due to its speed. “It’s a very fast mover,” Davis says. “If it wasn’t a fast mover, you would double or triple some of the snow totals.”

While the storm has moved through the region quickly, it is leaving behind a logistical challenge for shippers and carriers. Stephen Bennett, COO of Riskpulse, says that shipments in the Northeast have been delayed and some shippers, such as a food & beverage client of Riskpulse, was forced to adjust pickup schedules to accommodate operational outages and restarts.

“One of the most significant impacts we’ve seen has more to do with cold temperatures rather than the snowstorm itself,” Bennett relates. “One major food & beverage shipper is implementing a large-scale freeze protection initiative across its transportation network.  This is increasing market demand for reefer.”

Bennett notes that over 23,000 individual over-the-road shipments of Riskpulse clients have been disrupted due to the snow or cold. Additionally, importers are adjusting schedules as the storm forced port closures in Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; Norfolk, VA; and Boston.

“We’re expecting temperatures to begin warming up early next week so some shippers are simply holding temperature sensitive shipments for a few days,” Bennett adds.

Davis says the storm became a “bomb cyclone” as it moved up the coast, which means its barometric pressure drops at least 24 mililbars in 24 hours. What made this storm so unique, Davis notes, is that it dropped 59 mililbars in 24 hours, making it the largest pressure drop ever for any storm in this area of the Atlantic. Its pressure was equivalent to the pressure that would typically be seen in a Category 3 hurricane.

“It’s one of the reasons why we are seeing such storm surge,” Davis says, noting that it is comparable to Superstorm Sandy that devastated the New Jersey and New York coasts a few years ago.

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The storm featured near hurricane force winds, and combined with high tides resulted in flooding. City streets in Boston and Portland, ME, were seeing significant flooding. Interstates are not being affected by flooding, but wind and blowing snow has been an issue.

The lingering effects of the storm will be felt for several days on roadways, Davis says, because of the arctic cold that has gripped the region for weeks.

“When you get bitter cold like this, some of the chemicals and salt they use are just not as effective” in melting snow of roadways, he says. “So, road issues are going to be a problem.

As the storm pulls away Thursday night, it will leave behind it single-digit temperatures for much of the Northeast through the weekend and temperatures in the 20s for some areas of the south, such as South Carolina.

“While you won’t have any precipitation tomorrow, you are going to have windy and bitterly cold conditions,” Davis adds.

The good news? Much of East Coast should start warming up next week.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.