Winter Weather and the Impact on Trucking
Winter weather hit many areas particularly hard and rather early this season. But none have been affected like Buffalo, NY, which suffered several lake effect snowstorms in November. Many areas south of Buffalo were pummeled by upwards of six feet of snow. Even the seasoned Buffalo residents stated that they “have never seen anything like this.” While this weather event was forecasted, the magnitude and force of the storm brought Buffalo and much of upstate New York to a halt. The ensuing mountains of snow, closed roads, and driving bans kept most businesses closed for up to a week. This storm and the classic Nor’easter snowstorms during the winter of 2013 made a tremendous impact on the transportation industry.
The safety impact is always first and foremost. We all have a common goal to get our drivers and all employees home to their families in the same condition they came to work in. In addition, we have a safety commitment to the general public. To be successful from a safety perspective, trucking companies must track and monitor these storms and communicate effectively within their operations teams, driving force, and customer network. We must also be aware that some municipalities are prepared for certain amounts of snow, and others are not. Our worst failure would be to send a driver into an unsafe situation and put his or her safety, the public’s safety, and our customers’ cargo at risk. It is imperative to develop a preparedness team and a process to proactively plan and prepare for these storms. With today’s technology and communication network—the tools are there!
The overall delays and recovery times have monumental impacts to all transportation related companies. It is not only the time that it takes to clear the roads, but the ensuing recovery period to get the network back to “normal operation.” Some areas are well-equipped for snow removal and normalcy is obtained within a day or two—but this is often not the case. Larger storms and lack of equipment or preparedness can stretch out the recovery period to a week or more. There is undoubtedly a “snowball effect” (pun intended!). We see equipment shortages, scheduling gridlock, product expirations, hours of service (HOS) issues, and network backup come into play. Other ramifications include customer dissatisfaction (levels of “understanding” can vary), driver retention challenges, and equipment failure. An additional impact that is often underestimated is the overall reach of a major storm in any region. Often, the perception is that the only impact is the locality receiving the storm. The fact is that a transportation network can be affected well outside of a 500 mile radius or more due to how our industry intertwines. This impact stretches across all modes, including rail. In an effort to serve our customers, out of route miles, warehousing, and other, creative transportation and inventory strategies are employed.
Ultimately, the true cost of a winter weather storm can be staggering. Multiple days of lost productivity, added miles, additional equipment, fuel, snow removal, lost driver wages, and accident/incident costs are all very real results. A midsized trucking company can easily see a financial hit in the tens of thousands of dollars per day. After multiple storms hitting the Northeast last winter, many companies were crippled and, unfortunately, some did not pull through. Many drivers and owner operators exited the industry all together as well. As we know, with the current driver shortage situation, we cannot afford that! Our customers are impacted financially in similar fashion. But at no cost should we ever jeopardize safety. The challenge here is that far too often we are unable to measure what we prevent. Nonetheless, we as an industry must continue to work together, communicate, and develop the proper processes to deal with what Mother Nature sends our way.