Track and Quotes

Show Shipment Information - Track and Trace PackageTrack and Trace
Get a Shipping Rate QuoteRate Quote

Blizzards Snarl Mid-Atlantic, Hampering Freight Movement
Monday, 15 February 2010 00:00

The record-breaking blizzard last week, the second massive storm in a week to hit the mid-Atlantic region, caused Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania to close highways for at least part of Feb. 10, and forced trucks to park and delivery schedules to absorb delays.

The series of storms dropped 50 inches of snow on the ground in some areas, closing schools and businesses, along with federal offices in Washington, D.C., for several days.

Maryland and Delaware closed several roads, including the part of Interstate 95 that runs through the two states.

Pennsylvania’s state of emergency declaration left Interstate 95 and Interstate 80 open, but it closed interstates 78, 83, 476, 176, 676 and 81 from the Maryland state line to I-80.

While trucking companies struggled to cope with the delays, some had contingency plans that helped.

At the height of the storm, only 10 of the 130 employees usually at work in the Cherry Hill, N.J., headquarters of NFI Logistics and Distribution were there.

Dozens of other employees were connected, though, working on home computers, dispatching and coordinating logistics for customers and for about 200 NFI trucks that had been sent out in advance of the storm.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” said Joe Roeder, president of NFI Logistics and Distribution.

NFI has a weather emergency plan that determines which staff members must be in the office and which must be working at home in order to keep trucks rolling, Roeder said.

At the height of the blizzard, when the three states closed highways, the NFI trucks pulled off until the roads reopened, Roeder said. Drivers had been sent out prepared with blankets and food in their sleepers, he said.

Other carriers such as FedEx and UPS Inc. have full-time staffs of meteorologists who help plot storm strategy worldwide.

Estes Express Lines, a national carrier with headquarters in Richmond, Va., slowed work at about 25 of its Midwest terminals when the storm hit Feb. 9 but otherwise kept trucks rolling, said spokeswoman Paula Evans.

“We deal with this every time we have bad weather, so this is nothing new for us,” Evans said.

In Elizabeth, N.J., at the Port of New York and New Jersey, New England Motor Freight made the same decision as its NFI competitor: Send trucks out as early as possible.

NEMF ran its full linehaul operation at the port the night before the storm, said Tom Connery, chief operating officer.

That allowed NEMF to get trucks beyond the reach of the storm, to New England and upstate New York, for example, where its terminals were unaffected.

“We were current everywhere but Baltimore,” Connery said.

“The big concern in our business is that carriers are often up and ready to go” the day after a storm, Connery said, but customers are not plowed out. That means a lot of returns and causes deliveries to back up.

Roeder at NFI said that because about 26% of his freight is food, getting as close as possible to the delivery point is crucial.

“At the end of the day, if we don’t get bread and eggs on the shelf, they’re out of business,” Roeder said.

Sending trucks out ahead of the storm left NFI at worst only 10 to 12 hours behind schedule, he said.

Carriers tend to link the bottom line to delivery success, but another big consideration is assets, Roeder said. “Equally important is getting that asset back in play for the next day.”

For transportation officials in the affected states, the back-to-back storms created a logistical nightmare.

For snow removal, Virginia relies on state and local truck fleets that are essentially large pickup trucks with plows.

“They simply cannot push 30 inches of snow,” said Jeff Caldwell, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Virginia has some larger trucks with plows and contracts with private firms for additional equipment, but could not meet the needs for clearing these storms, he said.

New Jersey did not close down any roads at the height of the blizzard, although traffic on its turnpike slowed to 30 miles an hour.

On the morning of the latest blizzard, Connery of NEMF said, he was startled to see fleets of cement trucks on the New Jersey Turnpike.

“I’m like, what are these cement trucks doing out in the storm? And then I looked, and they’ve all got plows on them,” he said. New Jersey had leased the drivers and the trucks.

That was the lightest moment for Connery in a day that he estimates—with snow plowing, driver hotels and lost production—will cost NEMF nearly $1 million.

Transport Topics, 2/15/2010