This week, Winter Storm Stella pummeled the Northeast United States with three to five feet of snow in some areas, and delivered a sharp reminder of the ways weather hazards can impact supply chains.
What can shippers do to mitigate weather-related disruptions during the winter season?
Shippers need to be acutely aware of the latest situation on the ground, and how these conditions affect the products they are moving. Proactive planning that is supported by a technology management system (TMS) provides the logistics options you need to minimize the hazards of a testing winter season.
Four ways to prepare
1. Communicate ahead of time. Before the deep freeze descends, get in touch with trading partners—such as carriers and logistic management providers—to discuss a proactive logistics strategy for the upcoming season.
Facilities, such as warehouses, that are located in high-risk areas are attuned to the risks in their locales, and they can offer valuable information on the road ahead. These initial discussions provide an opportunity to review your freight plans for the coming months and how transportation schedules might need to be adjusted. Also, it’s important to level set carrier expectations with regard to what freight rates they will charge, and the capacity they can make available, as you shift loads around your freight network to allow for inclement weather.
These interactions should become more intense in the days just prior to the weather event as a clearer picture of the impacts emerge. And, you need to be in close contact with trading partners during the event in order to stay ahead of the situation as much as possible.
2. Tune into alert services. There are a number of 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. They can also be used to identify back-up routes and freight facilities. Make sure that your trading providers have visibility into these tools and can make agreed upon 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, do 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? 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 reports can be updated and disseminated as frequently as is required, given the changeable nature of weather patterns.
It’s impossible to know for sure what weather risks may happen in future weeks. 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 weather events and other disruptions, read our white paper, Add Resilience to Supply Chains.
Editor’s note: This is an updated post that originally ran in 2016. Since it’s a timely topic, we wanted to share it with you again.