Spot truckload freight activity jumped last week as shippers and logistics companies began to reposition freight ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Laura, which has quickly grown into a powerful, Category 4 hurricane that is forecast to swamp the Texas-Louisiana border later tonight.
The fast-moving storm is expected to sweep quickly over the coastline between Houston and New Orleans, and then continue inland, bringing hurricane-force winds and widespread damaging gusts across portions of eastern Texas and western Louisiana early Thursday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Ahead of that potential hammer strike, more than half a million people were ordered to flee the Gulf Coast on Tuesday, according to published reports. Fearing the damage of up to 13 feet of storm surge flooding, most of the displaced residents were from Beaumont, Galveston, and Port Arthur, Texas, with additional evacuees leaving Calcasieu Parish in southwestern Louisiana. That evacuation has been slowed because buses are carrying fewer people than their full capacity, in order to minimize the spread of Covid-19.
One possible impact of the storm could be a jump in gasoline prices, since many energy companies have already closed down the oil refineries that are densely packed along the “Gasoline Alley” coastline precisely where the storm is heading. For example, diesel and gasoline both rose more than 15 cents a gallon in the weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area in August 2017, similarly causing many refineries to shut down, according to Portland, Oregon-based DAT Freight & Analytics, which operates an online marketplace for spot truckload freight.
Another consequence of the storm has already occurred, as freight rates in trucking markets rose to their highest levels since July 2018, according to DAT’s analysis of national average spot rates. Driven by a rush to reposition inventory before the storm strikes, the number of loads posted on the DAT One load board network increased 9% compared to the previous week. That pressure has pushed van rates up to $2.20 per mile (17 cents above the July average), flatbed rates to $2.28 per mile (up 8 cents), and refrigerated rates to $2.43 per mile (up 13 cents), DAT said.
Despite those challenges, disaster recovery charity group the American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) is urging area residents to follow those evacuation directives. “All signs point to Hurricane Laura making landfall as a Category 3 or 4 with historic, catastrophic levels of winds, flooding and storm surge,” Kathy Fulton, ALAN’s executive director, said in a release. “As a result, we expect to see a substantial need for donated warehouse space, transportation, and logistics equipment – and we are mobilizing accordingly.”
ALAN is also reminding members of the logistics community that their post-storm help could be needed soon. Following the storm’s passage, the group will share details about any requests for logistics assistance that it receives. “This has already been the busiest year in ALAN’s history, and our supporters have already gone above and beyond,” Fulton said. “Even so we truly hope that the logistics community still has a lot of compassion left in its tank, because storms like Laura often result in a deluge of demand, and our industry is best positioned to provide that support.”
1 PM CDT: #Laura is now an extremely dangerous category 4 hurricane with maximum winds of 140 MPH. Little time remains to protect life and property before water levels begin to rise and winds increase in the warning areas https://t.co/tW4KeFW0gB pic.twitter.com/6f9tvionaR— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) August 26, 2020