Supply Chain Expertise and Technology Blog by TMC, a division of C.H. Robinson

Weather-Proofing Your Freight Network with a TMS

Weather-Proofing Your Freight Network with a TMS.Connect


No one knows exactly what weather the impending winter season has in store, but there’s one thing we can be sure about: Some freight networks will be hit by weather-related disruptions over the next few months.

Transportation management system (TMS) technology can help fortify your network against winter weather risks. A TMS can generate logistics options that support your preparations for the upcoming season, and provide valuable input when you’re responding to adverse weather conditions.

Unclear outlook

The recently released U.S. Winter Outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) paints a mixed picture, largely because the La Nina phenomenon is expected to influence weather patterns this winter.

“La Nina favors drier, warmer winters in the southern U.S. and wetter, cooler conditions in the northern U.S.,” says the NOAA. Wetter conditions are forecast for the northern Rockies, while the entire southern U.S. is expected to experience drier and warmer than normal weather. Drought conditions will likely persist in many regions including California and the Southwest.

La Nina winters usually produce above average snowfalls in certain regions such as around the Great Lakes, but snow level forecasts “are dependent upon the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance,” says the NOAA.

Such unpredictability underlines the importance of forward planning and the need to develop efficient response procedures.
Here are four ways to prepare for the winter chill.

1. Communicate ahead of time. Before the deep freeze descends, get in touch with trading partners—such as carriers and third party logistics providers (3PLs)—to discuss a proactive logistics strategy for the season.

Service providers located in high-risk areas are attuned to the risks in their locales, and they can offer valuable information on the road ahead. Review your freight plans for the coming months. Also, it’s important to discuss freight rate charges during the winter period and capacity availability with carriers as you prepare your network for inclement weather.

2. Tune into alert services. There are various web-based weather services that automatically issue alerts via email for different ZIP codes. It is advisable to sign up with one or more of these sites and use them as a TMS feed.

3. Deploy dock management tools. These tools enable you to prioritize loads and reconfigure your distribution plans as needed. The tools can also be used to identify backup routes and freight facility options. Make sure that your trading providers have visibility into these tools and can make agreed adjustments when required.

4. Customize reports to the situation. Modern TMS solutions generate a wide range of management reports, but weather-related issues require certain types of information and analyses. For example, you ought to know whether the mix of modes used, length of haul, and the type of cargo in transit heighten the risk of a delay in areas that are vulnerable to extreme weather. Also, which high-impact loads can be shifted away from the danger zones? And, what does historical data tell you about weather trends and associated problems in your area(s) of operation? Make sure that the reports can be updated and disseminated as frequently as is required, given the changeable nature of weather patterns.

Be prepared

Mother Nature will undoubtedly deliver some surprises this winter season. Having a contingency plan in place that ensures everyone is on the same page, together with a TMS solution that is primed for winter operations, makes the weather challenge a lot more manageable.

For additional insights on achieving supply chain resiliency during winter weather, read a first-hand account from a TMC customer on how they managed for supply chain success during Winter Storm Jonas earlier this year.