How Will Severe Weather Impact Shipping in 2024?

Apr 5, 2024

Extreme weather threatens to disrupt the lives and economies of millions every year. Even as logistics professionals grow more proficient at safeguarding vulnerabilities within the global supply chain, flooding, hurricanes, snow and ice storms, earthquakes, wildfires, high winds and tornadoes can destroy crops, devastate infrastructure and stop unprepared businesses in their tracks.

As the outlook for 2024 takes shape, companies must evaluate their current shipping practices in preparation for a tumultuous year in seasonal weather-related hazards. Here’s how:

A “Very Active” 2024 Hurricane Season Is Likely

Natural disasters wreak havoc on roads, bridges and tunnels crucial to the preferred shipping routes and speeds to which customers have grown accustomed, but it doesn’t take a category 5 hurricane to throw supply chains into a tailspin. Less extreme weather patterns can still heavily impact drivers via low visibility or unexpected traffic jams, often leading to costly delays.

Unfortunately, we can’t exactly count hurricanes out this year — forecasts predict a “very active” hurricane season with an above-average number of major storms expected to hit the US directly. According to Accuweather’s chief expert, the Texas coast, Florida Panhandle, South Florida and the Carolinas are all at a particularly high risk for major hurricane landfalls in 2024.

It wouldn’t be the first time shippers have tangled with severe weather in key regions. The Pacific Northwest 116-degree heat dome damaged power lines and destroyed important local infrastructure with uncharacteristically high temperatures just two years ago, and by definition tens of millions living in New York City now reside in a subtropical climate zone at risk for both hurricanes and flooding.

Rough Weather Impacts Land, Sea & Air Transport

Trucking isn’t the only mode expected to suffer setbacks in 2024 due to bad weather. For a third straight year, drought conditions will likely force alternative means of transportation in areas reliant on minimum water levels — particularly along the Mississippi River. Along the coasts, ports frequently bear the brunt of harsh storms and flooding as hurricanes make their way inland.

Likewise, less-than-ideal flight conditions can easily sideline airfreight and dramatically disrupt sensitive supply chains depending on air transport. Increased wear and tear on runways in cases of snow, thunderstorms and escalated tornado conditions further threaten costly delays and repairs.

4 Ways Extreme Weather Affects Shippers

Rates: One bad storm can destroy even the most careful budgeting and well-made plans. It’s estimated that adverse weather conditions cost the shipping industry more than $3.5 billion annually. Trying to account for weather in the budgeting process is a difficult task, as the unpredictable nature of harsh winters and tropical storms introduces more extreme variables to the equation each year.

Capacity: Bad weather’s most obvious impact is in limiting the number of trucks on the road, and the similarly limited availability of usable trucks to ship goods over roadways. Getting stuck in a sudden blizzard or slowed weather-related traffic prevents trucks from replenishing the pool of available transportation resources — meaning even weather patterns in regions outside of a company’s normal shipping lanes can still negatively impact transportation.

Transit Times: Despite costly natural disasters increasing in frequency each year, the speed at which customers expect their shipped goods has only accelerated. While shipping experts might understand the challenges posed by roughly 70% of the nation’s roads and an equal percentage of the U.S. population residing in commonly snowy regions, customer expectations fail to account for such challenges. Slowed transit times and delayed delivery are inevitable side effects of inclement weather, and it takes careful planning to maintain trust among customers and retailers.

Fuel: While technically a sub-category you could file under higher costs, the fuel supply chain is an entity all its own. Fluctuating oil prices, refinery shutdowns and damaged infrastructure all impact downstream costs throughout the disaster-recovery process, making fuel-related challenges a consistent pain point for companies managing supply chains amid harsh conditions.

Mitigating Disaster-Related Risks

Natural disasters are aptly named — they don’t distinguish between businesses that are prepared and those that are not; they simply wreak havoc on local systems and leave transportation services to develop fast solutions. These solutions are generally more effective when implemented as preventative measures, and not in response to an active worst-case scenario. Here are three keys to mitigating the risks of extreme weather before it strikes:

1. Establish Frequent Communication and Transparency

Navigating a natural disaster demands a fast reaction time, which can only exist in businesses with efficient top-to-bottom communication practices. Effectively communicating changes in plans is a huge time and money-saver, but can only be done if your supply chain has complete transparency at every phase of the transportation process.

Staying connected with your people and your goods in transit is critical — knowing precisely where your goods are located, what conditions they require to arrive at their destination safely and what changes can be made to accommodate poor weather will facilitate faster and more effective decision-making when faced with a disaster.

2. Identify Regional Vulnerabilities

While harsh weather is near impossible to predict in advance, some areas exist in zones likely to experience hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and ice storms more regularly than the rest of the country.

Companies doing business with states along the Gulf Coast will want to establish alternative routes in cases of emergency. Businesses shipping to the West Coast should create similarly detailed backup plans to safeguard against summer wildfire season. Understanding your region’s particular set of challenges is key to anticipating disasters and developing strategies to keep your business afloat.

While companies can’t predict every potential shipping challenge, preparing for common seasonal or location-specific scenarios saves time and logistical headaches when disaster strikes.

3. Diversify Your Backup Carriers

Limiting your business to a small core of carriers dramatically increases the risk of supply chain disruption — and not just in cases of bad weather. Diversifying your carrier network ensures one downed powerline won’t sideline your entire business, as you’ll have access to a variety of other options vetted and waiting for pre-vetted transportation options.

Establishing a flexible supply chain through carrier diversification safeguards your operations from shutting down in times of crisis, maintains important business relationships without sacrificing service levels.

Fortify Your Supply Chain with First Call

Mitigating the dangers posed by natural disasters is all about anticipating and quickly adapting to new circumstances. With established networks of vetted suppliers, integrated technology solutions and a wealth of industry expertise, reputable 3PLs like First Call are well-equipped to identify logistical vulnerabilities and guide partners through unforeseen circumstances with ease.

Contact First Call today for more on preparing your business against harsh weather and other market disruptions, and be sure to check out our other disaster management resources.

Simplify your Next Shipment with First Call Logistics

Building and managing cost-efficient supply chains is a full-time job. First Call’s rare combination of in-house assets, expert problem-solving and track record of stellar customer service makes us the 3PL of choice for business partners with a wide range of shipping needs.

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