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Soaking rains, flooding possible across the Southeast this week

  (Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)

Typically, snow and ice are what slow down truckers the most during the winter, and this will probably happen in some parts of the country. But this week flooding will be an additional threat to drivers, mainly in the Southeast. There’s a good chance of road closures, as well as property damage to homes and businesses.

Development and Timing

 Estimated areas of heaviest rainfall totals this week.
Estimated areas of heaviest rainfall totals this week.

A frontal boundary will stall across a large portion of the Southeast just about all week, though there’s still some uncertainty as to exactly where this feature will end up. Waves of energy will move along the front, producing daily periods of heavy rainfall across various parts of the region. The heaviest rainfall is expected to be right along the stalled front (red-shaded area in the graphic above), where totals of six to eight inches are forecast, with pockets of higher amounts possible. Right now the largest totals will probably occur from northeastern Arkansas and the Memphis area, to the Cumberland Plateau just west of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Given the saturated ground conditions in many places from recent rains, much of the impending rainfall will immediately convert into runoff. This will overwhelm the natural drainage processes, leading to flash flooding potential at the onset of the heavy rain, followed by widespread river flooding across the region later in the week. Again, depending on exactly where the front stalls, nearly all of the river gauges on the Tennessee River, as well as many in the lower Mississippi river Valley, could reach flood stage at some point this week; tributaries, too. But how many waterways may reach “moderate” or “major” flood stage remains uncertain.

The best advice for truckers (and other drivers, for that matter) is don’t try to go through areas that look flooded, even if “Road Closed” signs or other barricades haven’t been set up. It’s easy to underestimate the depth of flood water. Your truck could stall, leaving you trapped; or, if the road is washed out (which can be difficult to detect), you could end up in a sinkhole. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), flooding caused the second-most number of weather-related deaths in the U.S., on average, from 1988-2017. Around half of those deaths happened in vehicles.

Flood Warnings and Flood Advisories have already been posted across parts of the the Mississippi and Tennessee River valleys, with more likely throughout the week. The latest updates to these official National Weather Service (NWS) alerts can be found on this interactive map.

Impact on Freight Movement

While flooding doesn’t usually lead to long-term swings in the freight markets, except in extreme cases like hurricanes, drivers should plan for temporary delays due to possible road closures during this week’s event. The major routes that could be affected the most are I-40 from Little Rock to Nashville, and I-65 from Nashville to Huntsville. Some secondary routes may be blocked, too. Carriers should find alternate routes for their drivers, if possible.

Other Notable Weather This Week

Heavy snowfall will keep coming down tonight (Monday, February 18) through Tuesday across a large portion of the Southwest. This will affect I-40 from Flagstaff, Arizona all the way across northern New Mexico, where 12 to 24 inches could accumulate. During this time, the tallest peaks of southern Colorado could see an additional 10 to 20 inches, including areas along the I-25 corridor. Blowing snow could occasionally reduce visibility in these regions.

Snow, sleet and freezing rain will bring treacherous driving conditions back to portions of the Midwest and Northeast from Tuesday night through Thursday, affecting sections of major routes like I-80, I-81, I-90, and I-94. Heavy snow could return to the Sierra Nevada later in the week, in addition to some of the same areas of Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico that are seeing early-week snowfall.

Look for weather updates throughout the week on the FreightWaves website!

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.