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4 ways heat waves can scorch truckers

From breakdowns to blackouts, intense summer heat can delay unprepared drivers

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Historic heat waves have hit several Western states this summer, with record highs exceeding 115 degrees for multiple days in some places. These are some potential impacts of excessive heat on truckers, and things they can do to prepare.

Breakdowns

Blown tires and refrigeration unit malfunctions are commonly due to increased road temperatures, which, during summer heat waves, can be at least 20 degrees hotter than the air temperatures. This is because asphalt and concrete absorb and retain a lot of heat. Regular maintenance is important to make sure engines, electrical systems, etc. don’t stop working under the stress of excessive outside heat.

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Francisco Isaias replied to a FreightWaves question about heat-related issues, posted on the Rates & Lanes Facebook page: “It’s called preventative maintenance, something 80% of these truckers avoid,” Isaias said. “They look at me crazy when I tell them at a certain mileage to replace certain parts that are in good condition.”

Also, carriers should avoid using retreaded tires, if possible, when sending drivers into extreme heat. As tires expand, they’re more prone to leaving “road gators” behind. These are large sections of retreads that come unglued, flying off the tires’ casings. They become dangerous for truckers and other drivers on the roads. Drive 360 Logistics suggests that all drivers carry a list of maintenance vendors along their routes in case of a breakdown.

Blackouts

During prolonged heat waves people tend to run their air conditioners nonstop, especially if nighttime temperatures don’t drop enough. This amount of electricity usage can eventually drain power grids, leading to power surges, blackouts or brownouts.

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Dispatchers should be ready with backup generators in case their networks go down, and they should prepare drivers with “what if” scenarios in case they can’t contact their dispatchers. Adopting a cloud-based system can alleviate the need for consistent power.


Burnouts

A truck’s cab can turn into a virtual brick oven during the most intense heat waves. Even with air-conditioning and a well-insulated truck, the inside temperature can break 100 degrees in virtually no time at all when turned off. Extended periods of time in that kind of heat can cause short- and long-term effects on truckers’ physical and mental health.

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Related: Protecting America’s infrastructure workers during summer heat waves


According to the National Weather Service, heat has killed more people per year, on average, than any other type of weather event over the past 30 years — almost as many as hurricanes and tornadoes combined. These are some heat safety tips for drivers.

Blockages

Hurricanes often come along with summer heat and humidity. High winds and torrential rains from tropical cyclones can lead to widespread roadblocks due to debris and flooding. Road closures can last for days or weeks as crews clean up damage.

Truck blown over by Hurricane Laura’s winds in August 2020. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Hurricane season for the Atlantic basin — the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and western Atlantic Ocean — runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. However, named storms (hurricanes and tropical storms) have developed off-season, with some hitting the U.S. mainland or territories. 

On average, hurricane activity peaks in September, but devastating storms can occur anytime of the season. Having two to three backup routes and following hurricane forecasts daily can help drivers avoid major delays.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.
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