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5 ways weather impacts freight shipments

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

When it comes to freight, bad weather can cause all kinds of shipping issues, from delays to increased costs — none of which are good for business. Understanding how weather can affect freight shipment can help everyone in the supply chain plan ahead. The following are five ways weather can affect freight flows, and how shippers can mitigate the potential impacts.

Road conditions

Trucking is an essential component of the American economy. But drivers can’t do their jobs efficiently if road conditions are dangerous. If roads are flooded, or covered in ice or too much snow, highway officials are liable to shut them down. This means drivers have to find alternative routes that may extend transit times. As frustrating as that is for everyone involved, however, truckers’ safety is crucial. Keeping truckers safe also means that the freight is kept safe, even though hazardous road conditions could delay delivery times.

Hauling an 18-wheeler weighing more than 40 tons and carrying thousands of dollars of products can be stressful in itself. Add poor visibility, traction issues, braking quickly and other drivers on a dangerous road, and the goal of timely, safe delivery gets trickier.

Guarantees/expedited shipping

Choosing guaranteed or expedited shipping services is an additional cost which puts certain shipments at the top of carriers’ priority lists. Nothing is guaranteed, especially when unexpected, dangerous weather can come along and disrupt the timing of those shipments. Remaining aware of weather conditions along routes helps shippers decide whether or not to spend money requesting these services. It also helps them manage expectations in terms of estimated transit times.

SONAR Critical Events and radar: Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, 3 p.m. EST

Besides offering a wide array of near-real-time freight data, the FreightWaves SONAR Critical Events platform gives shippers and carriers a snapshot of current and forecast weather conditions, as well as assets like airports, seaports, oil facilities and rail hubs that may be in the path of disruptive weather. Official weather alerts from the National Weather Service (NWS) are embedded, and tropical cyclone forecast tracks are available.


Much like roads, terminals may be totally or partially closed because of severe weather. This isn’t just for the safety of the facilities themselves, but for the people who work in them and keep them running. If a terminal has limited access during bad weather, it means some shipments will go out but could be delayed. Terminal closures occur when it’s too dangerous for anyone to be working there or to be driving on the roads.

Power outages

If the power goes out, the freight world can’t do much. Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and other natural disasters damage infrastructure, utility lines and communication lines. This makes it difficult to accomplish vital functions of the freight shipping process, like getting status updates on loads.

Additionally, truckers can’t fill up at gas stations in impacted areas, and moving freight can become a big mess. Working with a 3PL can mitigate some of these headaches by giving access to powerful transportation management software that can track shipments. Many 3PLs keep tabs on inclement weather for their customers, keeping them in the loop no matter the circumstances.

Capacity limitations

When extreme weather impacts trucks on the roads, this means fewer trucks are available to conduct normal operations. A traffic jam on a major highway due to severe storms, or drivers having to reroute, keeps trucks and truckers out of the capacity pool. So, a storm across the country that may not have directly impacted a shipper could still have some influence over its carrier options and rates.

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.