Extreme Cold, Snow and Ice Cause Transportation Nightmares


On Feb. 5, the entire Great Lakes ice coverage was only at 8.3%. As of Feb. 20, Great Lakes ice coverage had grown to 44.7%. NOAA scientists had projected the maximum Great Lakes ice cover for 2021 would be 30%, with the maximum typically occurring between mid-February and early March. At the end of January, the ice coverage on Lake Superior was well below average at 4% coverage. Thoughts of an early opening to the spring grain shipping season quicky vanished after the arctic air moved in and on Feb. 21, Lake Superior ice coverage had grown to 48.2%.


When temperatures remain well below zero, it negatively affects railroad performance. According to the BNSF, additional locomotives are usually required to generate proper airflow for trains’ braking systems and there can be reduced productivity at terminals due to multiple switch and airflow issues across railyards.

In a Feb. 19 update to customers, the BNSF said that recovery efforts are ongoing as BNSF teams are making progress in restoring normal operations. “After another frigid morning across much of the network, including record-breaking low temperatures in Texas, weather conditions are improving, and operating teams are fully engaged in driving improved service performance heading into the weekend.

“As we have reported, the extreme weather experienced this week across our north region, through the central core of the network and deep into Texas caused a broad range of major service challenges. Many trains were forced to hold due to airflow issues resulting from the arctic cold. We also confronted significant snow and/or ice accumulations from the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf Coast, including in key locations like Chicago, Kansas City, Tulsa, Fort Worth and Memphis. Numerous power outages this week, particularly in Texas, also impacted crew deployments and other personnel,” said the BNSF.


The Union Pacific noted in a customer update on Feb. 20 that “we continue to make progress with our recovery efforts as the arctic weather has subsided throughout our network.” In the Midwest region, the Chicago terminal is still recovering from significant snowfall and working to resume normal operations. In the Southern region, UP said that road conditions south of Little Rock, Arkansas, continue to impact their ability to transport crews. “Areas within Arkansas and Missouri continue to recover from an extended snowfall event and are working to resume normal operations. While the number of locations operating with the use of generators has decreased significantly, our engineering team continues to install and relocate generators across portions of South Texas. We continue to rebalance our crews to align with train flows in South Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Southern Missouri,” said the UP.

The cash corn basis for shuttles delivered to the Pacific Northwest was 15 cents stronger the past week as logistics became tight due to the weather-related problems. BNSF secondary shuttle freight also rose the past week with February rising to bids of $600 per car above tariff against offers of $1,000. UP secondary freight also moved higher February with bids at $500 over against offers of $1,000. CIF NOLA basis was also firm the past week as barges struggled to make their way down to the Gulf because of the poor river conditions.


On Feb. 17, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) declared that an emergency existed, warranting issuance of a Regional Emergency Declaration and an exemption from Parts 390 through 399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety (FMCSRs), except as otherwise restricted in this Emergency Declaration. Such emergency is in response to damage and heating and other fuel shortages from severe winter storms in affected states.

The Declaration addresses the emergency conditions creating a need for immediate transportation of persons, supplies, goods, equipment and heating fuels, including propane, natural gas, heating oil and other fuel products and provides necessary relief, noted the FMCSA on their website. The declaration is effective until the end of the emergency or through March 4, whichever is earlier.

Affected states and jurisdictions included in this Emergency Declaration are: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.


Mary Kennedy can be reached at mary.kennedy@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @MaryCKenn

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