Modern supply chains juggle multiple points of interchange and locations, from ships, marine terminals, rail and truck intermodal operations and terminals, airplanes, container depots, distribution centers, and warehouses.
What happens if a snowstorm slows down train travel, or flooding makes it impossible to drive?
That’s why we spoke with Bill Hamlin, a supply chain expert with over 35 years of experience as the former COO of ITS ConGlobal, former CEO of Horizon Lines, and former Executive Vice President of Norwegian Cruise Lines.
We talked through how weather impacts each stage of the supply chain, the technical innovation in the space, and how weather intelligence can evolve the way the supply chain interacts with ever-changing weather patterns.
While data might not be literally driving your cargo from Point A to Point B, it’s data that powers your operations. Successful supply chain management requires predictability — and with the weather, a forecast just isn’t enough.
“Having the type of information Tomorrow.io can provide and being able to reach into that individual location and tie events to actions across the end-to-end supply chain impacts predictability and ultimately your reliability.”
With weather intelligence, you can improve your operations in 4 specific ways.
1. Ensure Employee Safety
Successful supply chain management starts with safety.
Weather conditions can create unsafe conditions in a variety of ways, whether that’s crane operators dealing with heat and dehydration in Saudi Arabia or de-icing crews on ships in Alaska.
For Hamlin, every day of operations should start with a safety briefing. This can include any day-to-day reminders, but more often than not, it comes down to current conditions, especially for any severe or concerning weather events. In the case of a high heat index, local supervisors can warn staff and make sure they take breaks and get water as needed.
“At ITS ConGlobal, Tomorrow.io was a daily — and sometimes hourly — tool that gets as granular as you need it to so teams can prepare and take action during any type of weather, from heat to air quality to severe storms. Knowing what your operation is going to be, being able to instruct your personnel in terms of what safety precautions to take, makes the work that much safer.”
The key is being prepared for anything. Hamlin cites one example where heavy winds meant adjusting stack heights of containers at their container depot or intermodal facility. Otherwise, the team risked stacks blowing over and damaging equipment, cargo, or harming employees.
More recently, in the Northwest, air quality is what concerns Hamlin. Understanding the air quality index and any nearby forest fires gives their team the data they need to suspend operations if need be, while making sure that everyone is safe.
2. Secure Equipment and Cargo
Logistics is all about moving cargo from one place to another. Keeping that cargo secure — whether it’s batteries or baseballs — requires a deep understanding of weather patterns, especially with severe weather.
Hamlin spent several years at Norwegian Cruise Lines, where cargo is the most important of all: passengers.
“We had some very interesting weather events in my time at Norwegian Cruise Lines. We used various weather prediction systems and routing systems to keep both the ships and cargo safe and secure, and our passengers. Weather can change very quickly, so it’s important to know what’s coming.”
Running operations in the Atlantic meant dealing with hurricane season. One year, they had a ship returning to New York City from a private Caribbean island. The hurricane shifted, moving West when it was supposed to turn North. An 80-foot rogue wave hit the ship, damaging suites that were eleven decks up.
While Hamlin stresses that the ship was never in a “Perfect Storm” moment, changing weather patterns and inaccurate forecasting meant they couldn’t reroute fast enough, damaging company and customer property in the process. Any intermodal equipment carries significant costs to replace or repair, especially in heavy weather.
“Tomorrow.io brings in weather dynamics that talk in minutes rather than hours, and that could have prevented some of the significant damage we took during that storm. It can make a huge difference when it comes to keeping everything secure.”
With weather intelligence software, officers can use more information to determine pre-routing, look at general conditions, and make data-driven decisions. During the voyage, onboard officers constantly manage and monitor the weather and make adjustments, looking at wind speed, wind direction, wave height and frequency, and more.
Within Tomorrow.io, you can easily build insights and protocols directly into the software, so you’re not dependent on one person or a sheet of paper to know what to do in the event of a weather change. That way, they know how to most efficiently take a ship from Point A to Point B.
3. Keep Everything Efficient
ITS ConGlobal coordinates 95 different locations across North America, Mexico, and Costa Rica. That means they need to manage weather handoffs in a variety of climates, from hurricanes to hailstorms. Efficient operations mean understanding exactly what’s coming, how severe it will be, and what you need to do to prepare.
“We’re dealing with multiple touchpoints and any number of weather events, from rain, flooding, heavy winds, hail, extreme heat, extreme cold, snow and ice, and air quality. With weather routing, you can stay away from heavy weather, but sometimes it’s just not possible. The more advanced information you have, the better off you are.”
Take heavy snow and ice for example. Hamlin recalled back-to-back snowstorms while managing port operations in New Jersey in the ‘90s. They had enough insight to book snow-removal contractors ahead of time, increasing staffing to be able to stay open. The result? They were the only terminal functioning for that week.
“We had these two snowstorms on top of each other, but with a little foresight, we were the only terminal functioning, delivering and receiving containers for our customers even during that heavy storm. Because we had some advanced notice, we could take the steps we needed to get the cargo out.”
It’s all about contextualizing the information so it’s easy for everyone to access. Weather intelligence defines the impact on the business, rather than giving you the raw weather data, so you can slow down or delay operations if needed, implement specific safety protocols, or reroute cargo ahead of time to keep everything efficient.
4. Drive Velocity of Delivery
What drives delivery velocity isn’t just about the logistics. It’s about clear, real-time communication of the on-the-ground situation.
“Look, you can’t control Mother Nature. But if you have a good idea of what’s coming at you, you can communicate with your customers so you don’t waste time and money and so you can keep equipment and people safe.”
Set expectations with your customers ahead of time, communicating with them what you know and how that changes their business. Whether it’s airlines or trucking companies, you don’t want to waste empty miles trying to get to a facility that’s not going to be open, operational, or accessible due to weather.
The ROI of Weather Intelligence
Effectively managing supply chains takes coordinating many moving parts, and synthesizing data on routes, speeds, and weather. With Tomorrow.io, you’ll get detailed location management data to predict and prepare for whatever weather situation might come your way.
“Being able to predict what’s going to happen, prepare for it, and manage through an event is very powerful. And it can save your business hundreds of thousands of dollars when it comes to your equipment, team, and operations.”
Tomorrow.io contextualizes weather data and forecasts that context, making it possible for you to understand weather patterns and predict not only the weather, but also the impact to your business. Granular insights provide you with an action plan to maximize output and reduce waste all while protecting valuable assets, while hyper-local forecasting and real-time weather enable planning and quick decisions to reduce delays and safely meet ETAs.