Heavy snow to slam Mountain West for two days

Up to a foot of snowfall coming to the Sierra Nevada, Rockies the next two days. Delays in freight movement possible.

Heavy snow to slam Mountain West for two days

Nick Austin, Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist FreightWaves 2019 12 04

A Pacific storm that is crashing into the western U.S. will produce heavy snowfall from the mountains of eastern California to the Rockies the rest of today, Dec. 4, through tomorrow. Meanwhile, portions of the northeastern U.S. will get their share of lake effect snow showers.

SONAR Critical Events: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, 9 a.m. EST

The outlook is for anywhere from 5 to 18 inches of accumulation in the high elevations of the Sierra Nevada of eastern California, from Kings Canyon southward to Lake Isabella. The eastern Sierra slopes, as well as the White Mountains adjacent to southwestern Nevada, could see 4 to 8 inches; 3 to 7 inches will slow down drivers over mountain passes on I-80. Twelve inches or more of snowfall are possible on the Sierra Crest.

In southern Nevada, 5 to 12 inches will pile up to the north and west of Las Vegas in the Sheep Range and Spring mountains, particularly the higher elevations of Kyle and Lee canyons. Rain may mix with snow in some spots, leading to slushy, icy roads. This will mainly affect state routes in the area.

Overnight and Thursday, Dec. 5, snow will then head to Utah, including the Salt Lake City area, as well as the Rockies of western Colorado and northern New Mexico. The highest elevations will pick up six to twelve inches.

Freight brokers should jump on the spot boards and search for loads headed east out of the Salt Lake City market. Based on the latest SONAR data from FreightWaves, updated this morning, Dec. 4, dry van spot market rates are trending up. Spot market rates for reefers — refrigerated/temperature-controlled trailers — are elevated well above contracted rates. Beware of the storm moving in from the west and bump your bids up as capacity will become an issue. Check to see if freight that loads tomorrow, Dec. 5, can load early to avoid the delays from the snowstorm.

Meanwhile, the same storm may flood portions of southern California with torrential rainfall. Some parts of the San Diego and Los Angeles metropolitan areas could get drenched with 2 to 4 inches of rain, leading to potential flash flooding, mudslides, debris flows and roadblocks. The rainfall may be intense enough to reduce visibility at times.

Other areas of snowfall today, Dec. 4

Bursts of lake-effect snow will fly from Michigan to upstate New York. Most of the snow will pile up near Buffalo, Watertown, Erie and Cleveland. Gusts up to 35 mph may produce blowing and occasional whiteout conditions on sections of I-81 and I-90.

SONAR Critical Events: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, 9 a.m. EST

Look for heavy snowfall in the mountains of West Virginia too. Totals of 3 to 6 inches of snow are likely from just east of Morgantown southward to Elkins and Snowshoe. Gusty winds will produce blowing snow and reduced visibility at times on I-64.

Additional notes

The nor’easter has left New England after dumping 2 to 3 feet of snow in some areas over the past two days. Commercial vehicle restrictions, reduced speed limits and airport ground delays stymied freight flows during the storm.


According to SONAR, outbound tender volumes (SONAR Ticker: OTVI) in the region are showing signs of a slow start to gear back up this week after the normal post-Thanksgiving sluggishness compounded by the effects of the nor’easter. Regardless, capacity in the Massachusetts and Maine markets is loose, with outbound tender rejections at 2.47% and 3.23%, respectively. However, capacity in New Hampshire is tight, with outbound tender rejections at 12.61% today, Dec. 4. Tender rejections (SONAR Ticker: OTRI) represent the percentage of electronically offered loads that carriers turn away on the contract market in favor of better rates on the spot market. If any shipments have been delayed this week, shippers think about cutting their tender lead times to get carriers in their shipping doors quicker.

Contributions made by FreightWaves Market Experts Donny Gilbert and Scott Adkins.