Winter Freight Shipping: What Changes and Tips for Effective Preparation

Winter comes every year, bringing with it fun things like snowmobiling, skiing and ice skating. It also brings snow, freezing temperatures and wind to many parts of the U.S., which creates treacherous roads. 

No matter where you live, your supply chain is likely to feel the impact of winter. Trucks coming into and out of inclement weather may be delayed, and this can throw a wrench into your plans. It’s time to start preparing for how winter weather will effect your shipments. 

Our home base in Minnesota gives us at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) a LOT of experience with winter driving. Our founder, Harold Anderson, was fond of saying “there’s no load so hot it won’t cool off in the ditch” — but, given our experience, we can help you avoid the ditch and any cooling-off period as much as possible. 

While winter weather is uncontrollable, there are ways to prepare for the impact inclement weather can have on your freight plans. Read this article to learn how you can keep your freight (and the roads) safe. Read on to learn:

  • How winter weather impacts the trucking industry
  • The dangers of tarping freight in the winter
  • How to minimize shipping disruptions during winter weather
  • How winter impacts the price of freight shipping

How Winter Weather Impacts the Trucking Industry

Snow, ice and wind create hazardous roads; ice creates slick surfaces, snow piles up in drifts and wind causes high-profile vehicles like trucks to pull or sway to one direction. 

The dangers here are obvious and real. Winter driving is well known to cause accidents as vehicles collide, slide into ditches and bust through drifts. Here are four additional ways winter can impact the trucking industry and your shipments: 

  1. Shipment slowdowns 
  2. Road closures
  3. Dangers of extreme cold
  4. Snow and ice on the roads

Shipment Slowdowns 

Drivers have varying levels of comfort with winter weather; some may decide to continue driving in a storm, while other drivers will choose to stop until conditions improve. 

When the driver chooses to stop due to weather, the driver’s dispatch team will notify the freight’s other stakeholders — its shipper and receiver. Safety (of the driver and the motoring public) is always the top priority. 

If the driver has decided to wait out a storm, your point person will connect with you and stay in contact as the situation evolves. If you are not able to delay the load while a driver waits for safer conditions, be sure to communicate that to your point of contact. 

It might be possible to find a driver who is willing to pick up the load, but it will come with a significant added cost. Finding a last-minute driver always comes at a premium, and finding a driver willing to drive through bad weather will also require a financial incentive. If you can delay your load, that is usually the safest and least expensive course of action.    


Road Closures 

In extreme cases, roads may be closed due to unsafe conditions. When this happens, the driver has no choice but to pull over in a safe location. The road may be closed for any amount of time from a few hours to several days. 

Road closures or a carrier’s safety team stepping in will cause a (necessary) delay, here are your options: 

  • When dealing with perishable or extremely time-sensitive freight, you may be able to file an insurance claim to recoup the value of the cargo. Your point of contact can connect you with the claims department to start the process. 

  • For other loads, your contact will work with you to complete the load at the next available opportunity. 

Even if roads are still open, a driver’s safety team may make the decision to pull trucks off the road in certain areas. Transportation providers want to stay on schedule and meet the expectations of their customers. Deciding to stop all trucks indicates a severe safety concern.

Dangers of Extreme Cold

Even on dry, calm days, extreme cold (below zero degrees fahrenheit) impacts semi trucks and the freight they haul. Trucks may not start, trailer wheels or brakes may freeze up, and rubber seals around doors and windows can freeze and harden. 

All driver tasks become more difficult and time consuming in the cold. Drivers may need more time to get the trucks up to speed, and they may need to stop before their allowed Hours of Service are over so they have a warm place to sleep for the night. 

The best thing you can do to combat extreme cold temperatures is to be flexible with timing so the driver can stay safe. If a driver is at your location, they would also appreciate an indoor area to wait while their truck is loaded. 

No matter the cause of the delay, as the situation evolves, the provider’s goal is to give proper notice. Updates may not be frequent (if the road is still closed and isn’t scheduled to re-open, there isn’t a need for constant updates), but the provider should provide relevant new information as it becomes available. 

Snow and Ice on the Ground

A build-up of snow and ice on the ground is as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than active precipitation. Icy roads lead to obvious hazards, especially when dealing with the momentum of a loaded, 80,000 pound vehicle. Icy roads, even after the storm has stopped, can also be closed. 

Snow and ice build-up at your site creates danger for vehicles in motion as well as for the drivers. Tasks like tarping are infinitely more treacherous on slippery surfaces like trailer beds. Measuring the height of your freight can also be challenging when standing on a few inches of packed snow or ice.     

While you can’t do anything about road conditions, you are responsible for providing a safe area for the driver to park, get loaded and tarp freight. Consider the condition of your lot before the driver arrives and clear the area if needed. Providing a safe and dry area can make the difference between an uneventful pick-up and one that results in injury. 

Whether the truck is in motion or stopped, the driver is always monitoring for safety. You can help keep things running smoothly by considering the safety of your immediate area and the freight’s path from or to your location. 

Dangers of Tarping Freight During Winter Weather

Snow, ice and cold greatly complicate outdoor driver tasks like tarping. Tarps are large plastic or canvas sheets weighing up to 100 pounds that are installed by the driver to cover open-deck freight. 

Winter weather causes many complications with tarping:

  • Cold tarps will be less flexible and more difficult for the driver to maneuver. The tarp can get frozen in one position, frozen metal becomes dangerously cold (and likely to stick to wet surfaces) and straps and bungee cords will also be less flexible. Depending on the size of the load, the driver may also become cold and need indoor breaks to warm up.
  • It is dangerous for the driver to walk around on a slippery surface. A slick parking area gives the driver many opportunities to slip and fall — sometimes still holding on to the heavy tarp or straps.

  • Tarps can get caught in the wind, effectively creating a sail. This can create re-work for the driver as they repeatedly have to pull the tarp over the same area. Blowing tarps can also lift anything they are attached to, creating a hazard for the driver and any people or property on or around the trailer. 

  • A standard flatbed trailer is 5 feet off the ground. If there is freezing rain, snow or ice falling, it will quickly make the trailer very slippery. Falling from that height will cause injury.

These complications make tarping more expensive; it takes more of the driver’s time, and drivers don’t want to take loads where they have to spend time outside doing additional tasks. 

If it’s necessary to tarp loads, here are things you can do to make it easier and more pleasant for the driver: 

  • Provide an indoor area for the driver to tarp. If the truck is loaded and tarped indoors, the cargo is never exposed to winter weather. Another option is a designated shed or garage on your property for tarping.

  • Help the driver. Tarping and securement are their responsibility and they need to be in charge of the process. But if you can use a forklift or a scissors lift to put the tarp in place, that will save time and hassle and help the driver spend less time on the trailer or equipment.  

Tarping is necessary for some loads. However, you may be able to save money by considering alternatives to using a flatbed trailer — like transporting in a dry van or Conestoga trailer, or by having the driver or receiver wash equipment when it arrives (if that’s possible at the destination).

How Winter Weather Impacts the Price of Shipping

In the trucking industry, delays and slowdowns often come with increased fees. While we can’t prevent winter weather, there are some steps you can take to minimize additional fees.   

  • Widespread delays will mean lost drive time and supply chain disruptions for your business. This can impact even customers in areas with mild weather. The best way to avoid this inconvenience and disruption is to plan ahead and complete shipments before winter weather sets in. 

  • Perishable cargo could potentially be destroyed or damaged by lengthy delays. Insurance may help recover these costs. If you can plan your shipments around winter weather, you will save significant cost and hassle.  

  • Areas highly impacted by winter weather may have a hard time finding drivers who are willing to move into your area. Adding a financial incentive makes it more likely that they will accept your load. 

Working with your shipping provider before and during your haul is the best way to prevent surcharges at the end of your shipment. No matter what winter has in store, there’s no way to replace the value of planning ahead and staying in contact with your provider. 

How to Minimize Shipping Disruptions During Winter Weather

As always, working with your shipping provider can simplify shipping during winter weather and save you money. Here are three additional things you can do:

1. Plan Ahead

Winter weather is likely to cause delays during shipping. Regardless of where you are located, your supply chain can feel the impact. 

If you know your shipment has to travel from, to or through a predicted winter storm, contact your provider. They may be able to work with you to plan an alternate route or timeline that will increase your chances of a safe, on-time shipment. 

Shipping always comes with some degree of risk. If your provider contacts you about a necessary weather delay, being flexible will preserve that relationship. Be clear about your needs, your deadlines and your staff schedules. The provider will work with you to meet as many goals as possible while keeping your freight (and the driver) safe. 

2. Stay in Touch

Winter weather can appear with little to no notice. If a sudden storm springs up along your route, contact your provider right away. Making changes before your driver encounters a storm will keep all people and freight safe during transit.  

3. Keep Your Yard Clear

As mentioned above, keeping your loading area clear is an important step in working with the driver to pick up or deliver your cargo. 

If it isn’t possible to provide a clear, dry area onsite, consider alternate locations. For example, moving your shipment to a nearby warehouse with a clear parking area can help the delivery stay on schedule.

Navigating the Snowy Roads Ahead in the Trucking Industry

When it comes to winter weather, sometimes the best thing you can do is zip up your coat and start preparing. Even if your season stays well above freezing, you should have a plan to deal with whatever winter shipping throws your way.

Most importantly, plan to stay in touch with your transportation provider as they navigate changing conditions to keep freight, drivers and the public safe. If you’re located in a winter zone, do what you can to assist drivers with preparing the load for transit. 

No matter when and where you’re shipping, the Freight Shipping Calendar can help you plan ahead. If you’re looking for help with transit this winter (or anytime), contact ATS for a quote. 

Jesse George

Written by Jesse George

Jesse started his career with ATS in 2015, when he joined the organization as a Regional Sales Representative. Today, Jesse is a Regional Sales and Service Manager with ATS Specialized where he and his team help customers move freight out of the upper portion of the United States — from Washington to Maine, along the eastern coast to Florida and to locations all over North America. In his role, Jesse takes pride in being a problem solver for his customers, striving to provide top-of-the-line service to each and every one of them.

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