Major winter storm still on track for this weekend

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

From the Midwest to the Northeast, people are bracing for another weekend of harsh winter weather. Some parts of New England could get more than 12 inches of snow, and major metropolitan areas on the I-95 corridor could get iced over, as FreightWaves reported yesterday. It may take a few days to recover.

Development and Timing

A strong low pressure system will exit the Rockies and dump snow across a long stretch from Wichita, Kansas to Chicago, Illinois this evening (Friday) and overnight. The storm will head through the Ohio River Valley on Saturday, followed by New England on Sunday, dumping more heavy snow and a narrow band of freezing rain. Then the storm will move out to sea Sunday night.

Snow and Ice Amounts

The biggest snow amounts of 12 inches or more will probably spread across interior portions of New England. Also, ice buildup could be one-third of an inch thick in some areas from Washington, D.C. all the way to Boston. Please keep in mind that the updated map below is a close estimate of what will happen. The exact track of the storm, which is difficult to forecast to a tee, will determine the final outcome.


Impact on Freight

Drivers will have to deal with some treacherous conditions and delays on many highways, mainly because of snow, so check here for the latest on chain laws. Also, winds will be quite strong at times, reducing visibility due to blowing and drifting snow. Gusts of 35 to 40 mph could make it tough to deadhead, too.

One silver lining is that the ice and most of the heavy snow will occur on Sunday, the least busy day of the week for freight movement. But shippers and carriers should be aware that loads could get stuck in the Northeast for a while before the region thaws out, which could take a few days.

Very cold air from Canada, courtesy of a broken-off lobe of the polar vortex, will keep the I-95 corridor bitterly frigid, with temperatures in most areas staying below freezing 24 hours a day from Sunday through early Wednesday. Lows will be in the single digits to zero degrees, with highs in the teens and 20s. Drivers: pour winter additive in your diesel at each fill-up in order to prevent gelling, and allow for possible delays due to frozen brake systems and/or batteries with low Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) values struggling to start.

Ground transportation isn’t the only mode of travel dealing with the storm. Norfolk Southern Corp (NYSE: NSC) sent out a customer advisory yesterday stating the following:

“Due to extreme temperatures and anticipated snowfall, the below terminals are areas of particular concern: Chicago terminals, Harrisburg/Rutherford, Mechanicville, Ayer, NY/NJ terminals & ports. All of our Intermodal facilities continue to operate under normal hours; however, gate and terminal closures may occur.”

“We will continue to closely monitor the storm and provide updates as the storm progresses. Customers are strongly advised to review local forecasts and Department of Transportation information for updates regarding local road conditions in the impacted areas.”

Air freight could also be delayed, and people should prepare for commercial flight delays and cancellations.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has been issuing winter weather alerts for this storm. Updates can be found on this interactive website.

Other Notable Weekend Weather

Fierce crosswinds will make driving difficult tonight through the high terrain of New Mexico, mainly south of I-40, as well as parts of western Texas. Gusts could reach 60 to 80 mph in some areas.

Scattered severe thunderstorms across the Southeast region could produce torrential downpours, hail, gusty winds, and isolated tornadoes tonight through Saturday afternoon along portions of the I-10, I-20, and I-40 corridors.

Look for heavy rain, snow, and windy conditions across the Northwest region tonight into early Saturday, affecting travel through the Cascade and Olympic Ranges, as well as the northern Rockies. Another storm could develop in this part of the country on Sunday.

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Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist

In his 17 years of weather forecasting experience, Nick worked on air at WBBJ-TV and WRCB-TV, including time spent doing weather analysis and field reporting. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from Georgia Institute of Technology. Nick is also 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 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” for eight consecutive years. Nick earned his National Weather Association Broadcasting Seal in 2005.