The trifecta of bad weather – ice, snow, and strong winds – will make it tough to move freight through parts of the southwestern and western U.S. for the next few days. Drivers will have to be extra careful, wait for conditions to clear, or find alternate routes around the southern Rockies and sections of the Great Plains.
Ice and snow
Freezing rain continues today (Wednesday) in the Big Country of Texas from Abilene to San Angelo, edging close to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and Wichita Falls, and into southern Oklahoma. Anywhere from a glaze to one quarter-inch of ice could accumulate on secondary roads, but could also affect portions of I-20 and I-35, especially bridges and overpasses. Large tree limbs and power lines could buckle under the weight of the ice, blocking roads and/or knocking out electricity.
It might get warm enough later today for the precipitation to change to plain old rain in some of the areas previously mentioned, but it will then transition back to freezing rain and snow tonight, spreading into the Oklahoma City metro area on Thursday. So, conditions will remain slick and dangerous on I-20 and I-35, with the potential of ice on I-40 and I-44.
Lots of snow has been falling across the southern Rockies since New Year’s Eve. Glenn Lader, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tucson, tells FreighWaves that 16 inches have piled up on Mount Lemmon, just north of the city. Other lowland areas in southeastern Arizona have reported up to six inches, while Tucson International Airport (ICAO code: TUS) recorded just under a half-inch. Lader says Tucson sees measurable snow of at least one-tenth of an inch only every few years, and the last time was in 2013.
The Albuquerque International Sunport (ICAO code: ABQ) recorded just two inches, but other parts of the city may have seen a bit more. It was enough to shut down some offices today, according to KRQE-TV on Twitter. Even though snow across the region will fade this afternoon and evening, many roads will remain treacherous.
Temperatures in the region, as well as in Phoenix, will be quite cold Thursday morning compared to early January norms. Fuel gelling could be an issue for drivers who don’t have enough winter additive in their diesel, batteries with low cold-cranking amps (CCA) values will have a hard time starting, and frozen brakes will be common for trucks and trailers sitting overnight.
Winds will be fierce across portions of western and south-central Montana the rest of the week, especially during daylight hours. The worst conditions will be along the Northern and Southern Rocky Mountain Fronts, including Augusta, Browning, Bynum, Choteau, Heart Butte, and Marias Pass. Dangerous crosswinds, mostly from the southwest, will reach 40 to 50 mph this afternoon in the areas previously mentioned, with gusts of 75 mph. Gusts could reach 95 mph Thursday night into Friday morning. Hauling light loads will be difficult at best, deadheading will be downright risky, and blowing snow will reduce visibility in some spots.
Other parts of Big Sky Country will be hammered by gusts of 55 to 65 mph. Drivers will have a hard time on portions of I-90 and US-191, as well as going over Marias Pass (US-2), MacDonald Pass (US-12), and Rogers Pass (SR-200). Even drivers carrying full loads might need to find alternate routes, if possible. High Wind Warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service, some of them lasting until late Friday afternoon.