NOAA’s US winter outlook: What truck drivers should know

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its annual U.S. Winter Outlook — but what does this mean for truck drivers across the country?

According to NOAA, La Nina will return for the third consecutive winter, and with it, warmer-than-average temperatures for large swaths of the United States.

The report predicts drier conditions across the South and wetter-than-average weather for the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest.

In addition, an extreme drought persists across the West, the Great Basin and the central-to-southern Great Plains. The drought is expected to extend into the middle and lower Mississippi Valley this winter.

FreightWaves TV meteorologist Kaylee Nix explained how this outlook may affect truck drivers around the U.S.

This question-and-answer interview was edited for clarity and length.

FREIGHTWAVES: How will these conditions negatively affect trucking across the U.S.?

NIX: Overall, the NOAA’s winter forecast will have the greatest impacts in places that are used to preparing for normal winter conditions and will experience a departure from that normal. A specific example is the warmer and wetter-than-normal conditions for western Alaska.

Portions of western Alaska rely on sustained hard-freeze conditions to preserve the integrity of ice roads, which provide access to some remote areas that don’t typically get trucking access during other times of the year.

FREIGHTWAVES: For areas experiencing below-normal temperatures, how should truck drivers prepare for icy conditions?

NIX: Drivers should be sure they have a clear understanding of emergency procedures and have the necessary equipment and emergency provisions to sustain them, should they get stuck on the road.

This includes tire chains, even if you are not running in the mountains or in areas that have legal chain requirements. Your emergency kit should contain enough water and food for 72 hours, batteries, flashlights, extra clothing layers and good, sturdy footwear. Drivers should also make sure they have anything, such as medication, they may need on the road.

FREIGHTWAVES: How does the drought affect the trucking industry?

NIX: The extended drought across the Plains and the Mississippi Valley will continue to impact barge and water traffic on the Mississippi River, which will also impact trucking that carries those goods after they exit the river. Low water levels will keep traffic slow-moving or stopped, which will lead to longer transit times.

FREIGHTWAVES: What can drivers do to prepare for a wetter winter?

NIX: Drivers should make sure they have a clear understanding of how to drive in all types of weather conditions, whether it be snow, sleet or rain. They should also take time to sharpen their driving skills in all types of weather.

Drivers can also take some basic meteorology courses to better understand how to observe changing weather conditions as they are driving. At the end of the day, a driver has to make a decision on if they feel comfortable or not continuing on in any type of weather.

Drivers should make sure they have a strong grasp on their acceptable levels of risk in order to make the best decision possible for themselves, the freight they are carrying and the needs of their clients.

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Editor: Jeremy Kariuki