This article originally appeared on FreightWaves in April 2023
Arrive, Werner, and FreightVana leaders share their take on weather impact and how new tech offers driver monitoring capabilities.
When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas in August 2017, it brought with it 152 mph winds, 5- to 10-foot storm surges and more than 50 inches of rainfall, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
But Harvey’s impact didn’t stop there — it also brought the region’s supply chain to a near screeching halt.
Damage to transportation infrastructure, shuttered factories and distribution centers, and halted oil production sent disruptive shockwaves throughout the logistics industry. The $125 billion direct costs of Harvey were only a fraction of its real impact on this complex sector.
Six years later, billion dollar weather events now happen every 18 days and continuously threaten the freight industry’s function and resilience.
Weather’s increasing impact on transportation
David Spencer, vice president of market intelligence at Arrive Logistics, has a deep understanding and appreciation for supply chain complexities. He recalls the ripple effect of events like Hurricane Harvey and the 2021 winter storm in Texas on production and distribution chains.
“When these events are large enough and last for an extended period of time, they can have longer reaching impacts on the balance of capacity across the country. What these two storms had in common were that they were large and long lasting, and the overall market conditions were such that the market was vulnerable to longer lasting disruptions,” Spencer said.
And it’s not just extreme weather. Although severe events can disrupt the supply chain for days or even weeks, daily short-lived weather conditions, which are increasingly volatile, also pose smaller but real challenges to transportation companies.
Each day America’s 3.6 million truck drivers, for example, face quick-changing road conditions, often leaving them in the middle of slick, windy, snowy or low-visibility environments that put safety and delivery schedules at risk.
With more than 8,500 trucks, Werner Enterprises knows this threat well. “[Weather events and natural disasters] can cause delays and the need for drivers to take alternative routes,” said Eric Downing, Werner Enterprises’ COO. “When a route is impacted, drivers may have to avoid the affected area or shelter in place until the weather passes. As a result, delays may occur and costs can increase, adding stress to the bottom line.”
FreightVana, a leading digital logistics partner, also sees the disruptive impact of everyday weather for both shippers and carriers. In response to recent disruptions in the Midwest and mountain regions of the West, FreightVana co-founder and CEO Shannon Breen is constantly thinking about alternative routes. “We always have open and transparent communication with our customers. We’re constantly looking at rerouting freight where it makes sense,” she said.
Taking a proactive, head-on approach to weather preparedness
As Arrive, Werner and FreightVana all experience, weather impact across transportation is significant and increasing.
And all agree adapting to it requires a proactive, intentional approach focusing on safety and transparency.
“Weather events are a reality in the transportation industry. The most important action that we take at Werner is ensuring that our professional drivers have the education, resources and support needed to prepare for inclement weather. I believe it’s important to reiterate something our chairman, CEO and president, Derek Leathers, says constantly: ‘Nothing we do is worth getting hurt or hurting others,’” said Downing.
Both Arrive and FreightVana also point to having a centralized process as key.
“It comes down to how quickly you can identify problems or at-risk loads and make adjustments. Having processes and standard operating procedures in place to execute when issues arise will ensure you are able to minimize negative impacts,” added Spencer.
“Make sure your operations team and customer teams are on the same page. The ops team has some of the best weather detail from their carriers, but oftentimes that information doesn’t flow efficiently to the customer-facing teams,” said Breen.
Executing at scale with weather intelligence’s driver safety solution
As each executive notes, the threat of weather impact and need for a proactive approach are clear.
But supporting drivers, identifying at-risk loads and keeping everyone on the same page is an impossible task without advanced technology.
That’s why companies like Nussbaum are turning to Tomorrow.io’s advanced driver monitoring capabilities to automatically and continuously monitor their fleets for weather-related hazards — and proactively send actionable alerts with recommendations:
“We had a driver, he was out in Iowa on Interstate 80 going 50 miles an hour. … With Tomorrow.io, we were able to call him and talk through the weather scenario. The goal that we have with Tomorrow.io is being able to give that confidence to a driver and give them the tools so that they can make better decisions and better judgments for themselves,” said Rick Schmidt, director of HR and safety at Nussbaum.
This method replaces manual processes most trucking companies still employ: Traditionally, this involves human beings monitoring weather across the states in which they operate, interpreting that weather to identify the potential hazards, and communicating those hazards to their drivers. The result is a time-consuming, error-prone process.
Unlike this manual monitoring, Tomorrow.io’s weather intelligence technology allows users to automatically and continuously monitor their fleets for weather-related hazards, rather than manually updating geofences or messaging drivers.
Tomorrow.io’s weather monitoring engine uses customizable, predefined weather thresholds to monitor each truck for hazardous weather conditions in real time. When the threshold is met, the platform automatically surfaces the at risk drivers, alerts them, and provides specific weather condition insights.
“Real weather preparedness doesn’t stop at the forecast. We provide the tools needed to monitor all trucks in the fleet in real time, easily and quickly identify which ones are in severe weather conditions so you can prioritize them according to projected severity and keep drivers safe,” said Ayala Rudoy, vice president and general manager of transportation.