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Supply Chain Risk

Major U.S. snowstorms still on track for Thanksgiving week

As first reported by FreightWaves of Friday, Nov. 22, Thanksgiving week will look like Christmas week in many areas of the U.S. as two winter-like storms take shape. Heavy snowfall accompanied by gusty winds will make it tough for some holiday travelers and truckers to get home on time. The weather will likely slow drivers working through the holiday to earn those extra bucks. Shippers should expect fairly significant delays of road, rail and air cargo.

Storm No. 1

The first winter storm will strengthen as it moves over the northern and central Rockies from Monday, Nov. 25, into Tuesday, Nov. 26. A large area of heavy snowfall is likely from the mountains of northern Colorado and southern Wyoming eastward into western Nebraska and northwestern Kansas. The snowfall will begin in the mountains Monday afternoon, spreading into the Denver-Fort Collins area during the evening. Then, the storm will move across the rest of northeastern Colorado by about midnight. The snowfall will end from west to east during the day Tuesday. The heaviest snowfall will probably occur late Monday into the early morning hours Tuesday.

SONAR Critical Events: Snowstorm No. 1, Nov. 25-26, 2019.

Storm totals of 6 to 12 inches will be common, with up to 24 inches possible in some foothills. Wind gusts of 35 to 50 mph will produce blowing/drifting snow, creating occasional whiteout conditions and very low visibility on the I-25 and I-70 corridors.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a winter storm warning for the region. FreightWaves SONAR shows several assets at risk of service disruptions, including Denver International Airport (ICAO code: DEN), Union Pacific Railroad (NYSE: UNP) and a few oil/petroleum facilities. These assets are indicated by the colored dots and “doughnuts” in the map above.

SONAR Critical Events: Snowstorm No. 1, Nov. 26-27, 2019.

The storm then ejects from the Rockies into the nation’s heartland from Tuesday evening through Wednesday, Nov. 27. Computer models continue to take the storm on a more northerly course with each update, but the main theme of heavy snowfall hasn’t changed much. Totals of four to eight inches will be widespread from eastern Nebraska and southern South Dakota all the way to northern Wisconsin. This includes Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Sioux City, Iowa; and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Just a slight shift southward in the storm’s track would also put Des Moines, Iowa, and La Crosse, Wisconsin, in the crosshairs. Some spots may see up to 12 inches, and winds could remain gusty. Storm No. 1 should wind down across the northern Great Lakes area the evening before Thanksgiving.

Storm No. 2

The focus for this storm is in the Western U.S. The NWS expects a low pressure system to strengthen as it approaches the California Coast on Tuesday, Nov. 26. Confidence is increasing that the low will strengthen and track into the Southern Oregon coast Tuesday, then move inland across the Sierra Nevada of eastern California and the Great Basin through Black Friday.

SONAR Critical Events: Snowstorm No. 2, Nov. 27-30, 2019.

High elevations of Northern California and the Sierra Nevada could get hammered by 12 to 36 inches of total snowfall, with isolated pockets of up to 48 inches. This includes the Reno-Lake Tahoe area on I-80. Gusty winds will lead to occasional blizzard conditions. Many lower peaks, including ones in southern Oregon, may see 4 to 10 inches. Twelve to 24 inches could blanket high elevations of southern Nevada and northwestern Arizona. The NWS describes this as an “unusually cold and potent storm” for this time of year. Potential roadblocks, possibly lasting for several hours or up to a day, are possible on portions of I-5, I-15 and I-80.

Storm No. 2 may also produce periods of very heavy rainfall. Flooding, mudslides and debris flows are possible in lower peak and valleys. Urban flooding is also possible in the San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

Besides travel issues, both storms could cause major disruptions in local and regional business and supply chain operations in the affected areas. Whether you’re on the road or in the air, the FreightWaves staff hopes everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

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