Supply Chains Suffer as Winter Storm Grayson Hits U.S. East Coast

Supply Chains Suffer as Winter Storm Grayson Hits U.S. East Coast

Executive Summary

Source: National Weather Service
  • On Wednesday, January 3, a powerful winter storm made landfall on the US East Coast, covering southeastern states with levels of snow and ice unseen in decades.
  • Forecasters expected the storm named Grayson to move along the coast line on January 4, bringing snow, ice, rain, strong winds, tidal waves and extremely cold temperatures to locations in the Middle Atlantic, Northeast, New England and Halifax, Canada.
  • Road closures, train derailments and port shutdowns have already caused shipping disruptions across the southern US East Coast and Grayson is likely to impact supply chains further north on January 4 as airlines announce flight cancellations at airports in New York and Boston.
  • Trucking operators have warned customers that shipments would be delayed on Thursday, Friday and possibly the upcoming weekend, depending on how quickly ports re-open, flight schedules resume and major roads are cleared of ice, snow and debris.
  • It could take days before roads and rail tracks are fully secured and air and ocean freight can be cleared as power outages and lack of immediate labor may impede a quick recovery, further exacerbating backlog piled up from the holiday season.

Background

On Wednesday, January 3, a powerful winter storm made landfall on the US East Coast, covering southeastern states with levels of snow and ice unseen in decades. Forecasters expected the storm named Grayson to move along the coast line on January 4, bringing snow, ice, rain, strong winds, tidal waves and extremely cold temperatures to locations in the Middle Atlantic, Northeast, New England and Halifax, Canada. Official winter storm watches and warnings were issued for multiple parts of coastal US states, and the National Weather Service warned of scattered power outages and hazardous travel and shipping conditions, including limited visibility and icy roads. Forecasters said the system would likely undergo a process called bombogenesis, in which a rapid deepening of pressure creates an explosive strengthening of the storm

Grayson was expected to hit New York in the early morning hours of January 4 before battering easternmost New England with blizzard conditions. Areas between Virginia Beach and Boston could see up to a foot of snow by Thursday evening, and below zero Fahrenheit temperatures were likely to persist until January 7. As of January 4, more than 3,800 flights have been preemptively cancelled, key container terminals shut down and major interstates closed to traffic.

Trucking operators have warned customers that shipments would be delayed on Thursday, Friday and possibly the upcoming weekend, depending on how quickly ports re-open, flight schedules resume and major roads are cleared of ice and debris.

Supply Chain Impacts

Road closures, train derailments and port shutdowns have already caused shipping disruptions across the southern US East Coast on January 3 and Grayson is expected to impact supply chains further north on January 4 as airlines announce significant flight cancellations at airports in New York. Frigid temperatures this weekend could hamper a quick recovery in freight pickups and deliveries in the Eastern regions, further exacerbating backlog piled up from the holiday season. Cargo moving through and to the region may also suffer delays due to the storm, slowing down inbound shipments to large consumer markets on the East Coast. Major trucking operators have started to inform customers to prepare for delays of inbound and outbound shipments in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Line hauls on key US trade lanes between Boston and New York as well as from Washington and Philadelphia to New York are likely to be affected by the storm.

Breakdown of Available Information as of January 4

Air freight

Since January 3, several key hubs for international and domestic freight and passenger transportation on the East coast have been directly impacted by the winter storm, causing ripple effects as far as Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas. On Thursday, airport authorities in the Greater New York area preemptively cancelled thousands of flights scheduled for January 4 and 5. More than 90 percent of flights at LaGuardia Airport (LGA), more than 70 percent of flights at Newark Liberty Airport (EWR) and 20 percent of flights at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) were cancelled due to the forecast of heavy snow. At Boston Logan Airport (BOS), at least two-thirds of scheduled flights were cancelled on January 4. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, Southwest and United were among the major carriers cancelling flights due to an anticipated FAA Ground Delay Program. The approaching winter storm had already led to significant flight cancellations and delays on January 3, including delays at key air cargo hubs such as Miami, Chicago and Atlanta.

Airport# of flights cancelled# of flights delayed
Atlanta (ATL)60>500
Dallas (DFW)854
Miami (MIA)1138
Chicago (ORD)53>750
Philadelphia (PHL)54241
Montreal (YUL)14170
Orlando (MCO)731
Washington (DCA)34189
Fort Lauderdale1020

Ocean freight

Northeastern seaports in Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia and Massachusetts have shut down terminals and remain closed until at least January 4 or 5. Port authorities in Virginia said that truck gates at the Port of Norfolk and at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal would be closed until at least Friday, January 5. The Virginia Inland Port, however, remains open.

In Georgia, both the Port of Savannah and the Port of Brunswick were closed entirely on January 3, but were scheduled to re-open on January 4, at 01:00 PM and 08:00 AM local time respectively. The Port Authority of South Carolina also shut down terminals, including Wando Welch, North Charleston and South Charleston, at the Port of Charleston on January 3 in anticipation of the storm, but was set to re- open on January 4 at 01:00 PM local time. The Inland Port Green would remain open and operate under normal hours. In North Carolina, the port authority ceased operations at the Port of Wilmington in the afternoon of January 3, with potential resumption of services on January 4 at 01:00 PM local time.

On January 4, ports further up the coast were still waiting to see the extent of the storm before making a decision on closing. At the Port of New York and New Jersey and the Port of Baltimore, port officials said they were not making major operational adjustments. Latest intelligence received by Everstream Analytics, however, indicated that the Port of Boston’s Conley Container Terminal would be closed on January 4, at least, due to the approaching storm.

Limited port and vessel operations are likely to exacerbate ocean freight delays resulting from the holiday period and associated congestion at container terminals. Extensive disruption is to be expected for shipments going through the Port of Savannah due to an already existing backlog prior to the closure. To help recover from the storm, gate times at many terminals are likely be extended until late evenings, and possibly the weekend, once the port resumes operations.

Container shipping line Maersk Line has also advised customers of potential omissions and delays of vessels, mostly impacting Europe-bound trade lanes and some Asia-Pacific routings. Vessel delays were averaging 2-4 days for most vessels scheduled at US East Coast ports for this week.

PortStateAnnounced closing time (local time)Predicted reopening (local time)
Port of NorfolkVirginiaJanuary 3, 06:00 PMJanuary 5
Portsmouth Marine TerminalVirginiaJanuary 3, 05:00 PMJanuary 5
Port of SavannahGeorgiaJanuary 3January 4, 01:00 PM
Port of BrunswickGeorgiaJanuary 3January 4, 08:00 AM
Port of WilmingtonNorth CarolinaJanuary 3January 4, 01:00 PM
Port of BostonMassachusettsJanuary 4January 5
Port of New YorkNew YorkMay close based on extent of storm
Port of New JerseyNew JerseyMay close based on extent of storm

Rail freight

CSX and Norfolk Southern, the major Class I railroads operating in the Eastern US, closed ramps at some intermodal terminals on January 3 and are expected to re-open throughout the day on January 4, if weather conditions improve. CSX closed its Charleston and Savannah ramps and extended free time for containers not already incurring storage by one day. Similarly, Norfolk Southern has also adjusted free time at its Charleston ramp. Announcements on expected delays have yet to be released by the railroad operators; however, disruptions during the East Coast winter storm in January 2016 had led to delays of up to 72 hours for freight moving to and from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast intermodal facilities. Customers can expect a similar range of delays as the full impact of the storm will only be revealed over the coming days and several train derailments will further hamper quick recovery operations. Last night, media sources claimed that a passenger train had derailed in Savannah on a line running from Miami to Boston shortly after a CSX freight train crashed off track near Valdosta, Georgia.

Road freight

Many truck terminals across Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina were closed on January 3 and not operating until further notice. For instance, Mid-Western less-than-truckload carrier YRC Freight informed customers on January 3 that its South Carolina terminal in North Charleston has shut down. A FTR Transportation Intelligence report from the end of December 2017 stated that “truck capacity is expected to be tapped out by early spring 2018, and it could tighten sooner if freight demand grows faster than expected or a major winter storm develops.” With key interstates, highways and bridges being closed and freight yards likely being filled with snow and ice, road freight may be severely disrupted until early next week. Below is an overview of supply chain relevant road closures or restrictions caused by winter storm Grayson since January 3:

Florida

A 50-mile stretch of Interstate 10 linking Jacksonville, Florida and Mobile, Alabama via Tallahassee, Florida was closed for nearly 10 hours on January 3 due to icy conditions, but has reopened since.
On January 3, all lanes of Interstate 75 were closed in Jasper, Hamilton County near U.S. 129 due to winter weather conditions. The highway provides the major link between the Southeast and the Great Lakes.

On January 3, the outside northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 95 at the Georgia-Florida line, the main Interstate Highway on the East Coast running from Florida to Maine, have been closed due to ice on the road.

North Carolina

On January 3, all northbound lanes of Interstate 95 were closed near Caton Rd due to an accident.

South Carolina

On January 4, authorities have issued truck restrictions on Interstate 526 and Interstate 26, a key east- west main route connecting the Port of Charleston to inland markets.

Virginia

On January 4, all eastbound lanes of Interstate 264 were closed near the merger with Interstate 464 due to an accident, a key intersection for traffic out of the Port of Norfolk through the South Hampton Roads region in southeastern Virginia.

Other key infrastructure points such as bridges remain subject to closures across the affected states. Latest reports indicated that some bridges in Florida and Georgia were closed due to icy conditions, including the Talmadge Memorial Bridge. In New York, speed limits were in effect at key access bridges to port areas, including Bayonne, Goethals and Outerbridge.

Outlook

As of January 4, damaging winds and heavy snow were still in full swing across the northern US East Coast and airlines, port operators and trucking companies were unable to predict when normalized operations would resume. On January 5 and 6, temperatures will continue to be below zero from New York City north, with wind chills of minus -20 degrees near New York City and minus -50 in the mountains of northern New England. It could take days before roads and rail tracks are fully secured and air and ocean freight can be cleared as power outages and lack of immediate labor may impede a quick recovery, further exacerbating backlog piled up from the holiday season. With trucking capacity being limited, shippers and customers can expect shipment delays to persist until at least the beginning of next week.

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