February 4, 2019

Statistics show impact of polar vortex on logistics shipments

Statistics show impact of polar vortex on logistics shipments

Trucking lines in Northeast, Midwest deploy specialized "protect from freeze" services.

By Ben Ames

Midwestern states are thawing out this week from multiple days of brutal cold that closed schools and businesses and delayed parcel deliveries as residents huddled against the dreaded polar vortex.

The weather threw frozen wrenches into the works of major supply chain players, canceling U.S. Postal Service mail deliveries around Chicago and Cincinnati, closing Amazon.com Inc.'s Chicago-area delivery stations, and prompting FedEx Corp. to warn customers of potential delivery delays, according to published reports.

Logistics software provider Convey Inc. tracked the impact of the big chill by analyzing 3.7 million shipments on its platform over the last two weeks of January and detecting a jump in exceptions from 9 percent to 11 percent nationally, the firm said.

Looking at data in the coldest states, the percent of retail shipment exceptions (deliveries having an issue in transit) spiked 191 percent in those weeks in the Northeast and Midwest, the firm said."According to Convey data, bad weather accounted for 45 percent of retail shipment exceptions nationally last week, and a whopping 992 percent increase in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan and Illinois over the past two weeks," Convey CMO Kirsten Newbold-Knipp said in a statement.

But even as the temperate has rebounded in February, weather forecasts now call for freezing rain and snow in the region this week, creating conditions that can stall deliveries and damage sensitive freight.

While the Midwest may feel cursed by this run of weather, some transportation providers in the nation's cold belt have deployed special measures they say can protect customers' supply chains from disruption. With the right equipment in hand, winter conditions are just another logistics challenge, according to West Chester, Pa.-based trucking company A. Duie Pyle.

The company offers "Protect from Freeze" service spanning roughly Nov. 15 to April 15 every year, according to John Luciani, Pyle's COO for less than truckload (LTL) Services. The service ensures that customers can ship or receive their water-based commodities regardless of the day of the week or temperature, carrying sensitive freight in specialized trailers outfitted with onboard heaters for both line haul and city operation, he said.

"Everything changes at 32 degrees in the Northeast, unless you're prepared for it," the company's website says. In addition to its heated trailers, Pyle's cold weather preparation includes overhead radiant heaters installed in the firm's service centers, located at the docks where workers store freight and do dock operations, he said.

Without those steps, extreme cold could harm freight such aswater-based paints and chemicals, water-based glues and starches, and sterilizing commodities used in stores and hospitals, according to Luciani. Pyle's service allows customers who are shipping those items during cold snaps to make anote on the bill of lading whether their freight is freezable. And in extreme cases, Pyle can even pack the shipment toward the back of the truck so it's delivered earlier in the day, ensuring less exposure to the elements, he said.

"We keep our heated trailer fleet on a schedule. We move those trailers on a planned cycle, running regular routes to all 23 LTL service centers, because you never want to leave a center vulnerable," Luciani said. "Those assets are pretty valuable this time of year, so we watch over them pretty hard."


About the Author

Ben Ames
Senior Editor
Ben Ames has spent 20 years as a journalist since starting out as a daily newspaper reporter in Pennsylvania in 1995. From 1999 forward, he has focused on business and technology reporting for a number of trade journals, beginning when he joined Design News and Modern Materials Handling magazines. Ames is author of the trail guide "Hiking Massachusetts" and is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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