The United States is a massive country. We span about 2800 miles’ coast to coast, if you take the shortest distance possible. It’s easy to forget this during your average work day, and even easier when you become accustomed to the type of overnight or two day shipping a company like Amazon can provide.
That distance becomes much more important to remember when you’re shipping freight, though. Shipment times are fairly consistent and predictable, short of a natural disaster – and even then, most routes can be modified around those disasters for the rest of the country.
Winter, however, is much different story. Winter affects the entire country, most dramatically in the northern states. Most of us living in the southern half of the US rarely see snow, and for some of the major population hubs, such as Florida or southern California, snow is a truly foreign concept.
For the parts of the US where there are major shipping hubs, particularly in the Midwest, snow and cold are a fact of life – and both aspects of winter can have a dramatic effect on your shipments.
Driving in snow and ice is no easy feat, even for professional truck drivers
If you’ve never experienced a storm that ends up requiring you to fire up a generator to keep your house warm because the power’s gone out, it can be hard to imagine what it’s like to try and drive a semi-truck through that same storm.
It doesn’t matter what the weather is like where you are – what matters is the weather along the route that your shipment has to take. Even if you’re in California and shipping to Florida, if you’re shipping freight on a truck, the weather along the entire route impacts shipment time. There’s mountains, plains, and thousands of miles of road along the way, with plenty of weather in-between.
Even if your shipment never travels a road that sees snow, most of the US experiences weather cold enough for ice to form on the roads. When there’s not ice, there’s just as much likelihood of rain or wind to cause problems for a truck driver.
Trains need trucks, and trucks need trains – even in fair weather railyards and hubs
The impact of storms approaching on freight truck shipments can delay train shipments, resulting in backlogs even in areas not experiencing a weather delay. Because of the intricate network of trains, trucks, boats, and airplanes all over the US that make freight shipping possible, foul weather in one area can have a ripple effect across the entire country.
While trains, with their heavy weight, might seem impervious to foul weather issues, they are just as susceptible. Wet tracks, icy tracks, snow covered tracks – wind can also be a concern for trains. In the study linked here, winter related accidents reach their peak in December and January.
Snow and ice accumulate on the tracks, on the switchboards, or on the train itself, potentially causing risks of derailment or damage. This can be an issue for the entire eastern seaboard, the intermountain states, and northern tier of the US – which is a majority of the country.
There’s issues that can arise that don’t necessarily have to do directly with weather and the train rails, as well. Downed power lines from ice, snow, or storms can fall over tracks and cause delays, or due those same effects on neighborhoods around rail yards, the crews that keep trains running might not be able to get to work.
Sometimes, even the forecast of a storm can cause major delays, as trucks are rerouted or schedules adjusted, meaning that the freight intended to go out on those trains can be delayed significantly. If the freight can’t make it to the trains, the trains can’t go out, causing a ripple effect all around the weather impacted area.
Compensating for winter weather is a fact of life, no matter where in the US you’re located.
No matter how much every carrier tries to compensate for weather, the fact remains that no one can control it. There’s no way to predict the weather for a long enough period in advance to plan all of your shipments for the best possible times.
Which means you have to work around the weather, even if you don’t live in an area directly impacted by it.
There’s a few ways you do that:
Expect, and accept, longer transit times. Even if a shipment says 5 days, expect that there’s a chance it’ll take longer, and build in extra time to your processes to accommodate a delay should one happen. If one doesn’t, then all the better – but it’s easier to deal with a customer who’s getting their product or order fulfilled early than one complaining because it’s late. This isn’t always an option for every business or every product, but it can be the lowest cost option if you don’t want to change how you ship.
Ship with a different logistics provider that’s experienced in helping you choose freight options. When you work with a third party logistics provider who has experience in navigating the intricacies of freight, and will work with you to find the best possible option, winter shipping is much less of a stressful experience. Some logistics providers, such as Diversified Transportation Services, even offer an online platform known as a TMS – Transportation Management System - that you can use to confirm the shipments you’d like to make yourself.
If you absolutely need freight to arrive by a specific time, ship early, and ship guaranteed. You should be able to request guaranteed arrival for your shipments if you absolutely have to have them by a certain date. What guaranteed arrival provides is insurance that your shipment is the first on the truck, train, plane, or ship – which means if there’s a window for your shipment to get out on time, guaranteed shipments are the ones that will make it in that window.
Guaranteed shipping is not an insurance against weather. It won’t prevent a blizzard from shutting down freight in three states, but if there’s a way to get your shipment out, that’s what it provides. It is the equivalent of you flying first class on an airplane—you’re first on, and you’re first off at your next destination.
It’s worth noting that even if your shipment doesn’t arrive when it was guaranteed to, due to a weather delay or catastrophe commonly known as “An Act of God” – you still pay the guaranteed rate. Your shipment was still first in line, it still took priority where it could, and that’s what you pay for when you’re paying for a guaranteed shipment.
Keep in mind that when you’re speaking to your client as the shipper, all you have to do is ask your client, “do you need this shipment delivered by a certain day?”
You can always let them know that you can ship it guaranteed at a higher cost if they are willing to pay. In most cases shipping guaranteed or with a well-choreographed supply chain optimization plan is more cost effective than arriving late.
Recent case in point of one of our clients:
Our client had a large oversize shipment to move on a flatbed from Chicago to Michigan. The shipment was flown in and the airport CFS had a backlog of international shipments to clear customs as well as load out on LTL carriers, TL carriers, and flatbed carriers.
Our client requested that we have a truck on site waiting in line, which took 6 hours to get loaded up due to the back log at the airport CFS, as the ultimate consignee had to schedule a rigging crew to off-load the oversize pieces via crane. Diversified Transportation Services guaranteed the driver would wait to be loaded, advised our client once the driver was loaded late at night, then when daylight broke, he was able to drive legally on the road (since it was oversize he was prohibited by law to drive during the night).
He drove directly to the consignee, and DTS coordinated when he left in the morning with the consignee. This meant the riggers were on site to unload after 12 noon, and DTS was able to minimize wasted rigger labor time and crane time.
Shipping in winter means considering weather nationwide, not just in your region.
Weather is a phenomenon you can’t control, can’t predict, and at best, can prepare for. When your business isn’t in the shipping business, it can be frustrating and overwhelming to try and cope with delays all winter. This becomes especially true when a shipment is only traveling what seems like a short distance.
You can reduce the stress of winter shipments by working with a third party logistics provider. Need something shipped fast, and shipped a specific way? That’s when you need someone with experience to help you navigate the options and find the most cost effective way to ship. Diversified Transportation Services has that experience – and the testimonials to prove it.
If you’re not sure what you need to be aware of when shipping in winter, or if your shipments need the help of a third party logistics provider, we’ve got a free checklist you can download to help. Just click below to get the printable checklist for winter shipments:
Whether you're a company looking to improve one facet of your supply chain, your entire supply chain, or simply looking for a transportation and logistics consultation, we can help.