Across the country, trucks are moving record levels of freight. Nearly $69 billion in freight was moved in 2021 — up 13% from the previous year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Even with all those miles of road covered, semi-trucks are susceptible to the same weather delays that affect commuters.
If you have ever wondered how moving freight is affected by weather conditions, you found the right article! We’ll look at how petroleum transportation and other types of freight work to keep deliveries on time, 365 days a year.
The Current State of the Freight Industry
The COVID pandemic has made Americans more aware of shipping and logistical delays. After several months of shutdowns in early and mid-2020, it has taken a surprisingly long time for international shipping and long haul trucking to reach pre-pandemic levels.
The ongoing supply chain problems have affected nearly every sector of the economy. In short: Anyone who runs a logistics company is likely scrambling to meet demand like never before.
Those pandemic-related factors will take months or even years to sort out. As those issues are worked out, one leading cause of freight delays persists — severe weather.
How Cold Weather Affects Moving Freight
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), around 70% of U.S. roads are located in areas that receive annual snowfall. Nearly 70% of the nation’s population lives in a region that is considered snowy. Around one in four accidents occur during icy or snowy conditions.
Even when there isn’t traffic related to snowfall, heavy snowfall can slow the average speed of truck and car drivers by 40%, according to DOT. Trucking companies lose $32.6 billion (worth of) vehicle hours because of heavy snowfall. The average financial loss due to those delays ranges from $2.2 billion to $3.5 billion every year.
Weather-Related Safety Concerns for Truck Drivers
For flatbed truck drivers and heavy haul truckers, wintery weather is a safety concern as much as it is a logistical concern. Truckers have to decide if making a trip in certain conditions is even worth it. Veteran drivers know that a flipped truck is costlier than a load that is a few hours late.
Even drivers who are familiar with driving in wintery conditions have few if any options when traffic slows or lanes close. Long transits often face the longest periods of exposure to wintery weather. A day of inching through icy weather can lead to excessive loss of fuel and time.
The best way to cut down on lost transit time due to inclement weather is to avoid those conditions altogether. Of course, that’s not always feasible.
The next best option is to monitor the weather and traffic conditions and schedule freight trips accordingly. Truck drivers continually monitor traffic patterns and adjust as needed.
Other Weather-Related Perils for Truckers
Wintery weather conditions are a leading cause of weather-related freight delays, but high winds can also pose dangers for truck drivers. The flat and broad surfaces on either side of a truck mean that high winds can push trucks out of their lanes or even topple them.
Truck drivers understand that driving with a light load during high winds leaves their vehicles even more susceptible to toppling over.
Flooding can also lead to logistical delays for truck drivers. Flash floods are particularly dangerous because they are hard to predict.
Semi-trucks have a high clearance that allows them to drive through 12 inches of water. Truck drivers still take steps to avoid having to drive through flooded conditions whenever possible.
Fires have increasingly become a weather-related cause of delays. Recent massive fires like the Bootleg fire have recently forced entire portions of states to evacuate their homes, which leads to massive traffic delays. As climate change leads to an increase in annual fires, cargo transport will have to adjust routes or plan accordingly.
Truckers rely on production warehouses as much as they rely on roads. Extreme weather can lead to delays in the supply chains that can leave truck drivers waiting for freight to arrive.
Weather also affects the ability of workers to load and offload truck deliveries. Power outages are another factor that can lead to delays.
How Climate Change Will Reshape Freight Transportation
Climate change will have a significant impact on weather patterns. Wildfires, flooding, and extreme weather will cause challenges for any trucking broker in the next several years.
Climate change will pose significant challenges to supply chains on the supply side. Sourcing reliable materials for certain products may become more difficult, for example.
Climate change will also shift where agriculture is grown. This will change how that produce is shipped.
America’s ports of entry are vulnerable to extreme weather patterns. That can shut those crucial entry points for weeks on end.
Of course, those changes will not all happen at once. Shippers need to become increasingly aware of the need to plan for bad weather and the effects of climate change. The more adaptable and forward-looking that freight companies are, the better they will be able to serve their customers.
Learn More About Trucking Logistics
Even as climate change and unpredictable weather patterns change how logistical supply chains are managed, truck drivers will continue to be the main means of transportation for freight in the United States. Moving freight requires an understanding and appreciation of extreme weather conditions.
Do you have questions about how Patriot Freight Group can help improve your supply chain? Fill out our online form and we will be happy to help you.