Thursday, January 9, 2014

Freeze and Floods Hit Road and Air Freight Services in US and UK - Ocean Shipping Relatively Intact

Extreme Weather Profoundly Affects Passengers but Cargo Suffers to Lesser Degree
Shipping News Feature

US – UK – Meteorologists are hopeful that the disastrous weather conditions which have seen the New Year in on both sides of the Atlantic are gradually improving. Freight movement in some parts of America has slowed to a standstill as the effect of the so called ‘Polar Vortex’ has been felt in areas unused to such extreme conditions with thousands of flights cancelled and roads impassable. The cold front swept in two waves across the country and has been held directly responsible for over twenty deaths so far. Ocean shipping services and ports have been largely unaffected, except for the non-delivery of cargo, whereas many airports have even seen refuelling trucks unable to operate as nozzles froze up.

The vortex behaves as one would expect, swirling anti-clockwise freezing everything in its path and the phenomenon is a normal part of the weather over the North Pole. This year however it has strayed south and caused the cancellation of around 5,000 flights this week with many others significantly delayed having a direct effect on urgent air cargo. Chicago’s O’Hare airport alone saw 1,600 cancellations, over 60% of its normal flight tally. US Freight trains too are significantly affected with preference given to keep passenger services operating, this did not prevent three Amtrak trains being stranded in freezing temperatures near Chicago with passengers stranded from Monday afternoon until buses could reach them on Tuesday morning.

The big freeze has seen record breaking temperatures across the ‘States, in New York Central Park recorded 4ºF (-16ºC) this week, the previous coldest being 6ºF (-14ºC) and set in 1896, Chicago also saw minus 16ºC and even Atlanta fell to minus 6ºC in the mountains, but wind chill has meant a significantly colder effect down below -40 (ºF & ºC) in more northerly places. One can only imagine the effect this cold snap has had on delivery schedules, particularly as power has been out for prolonged periods in many areas, reportedly affecting up to almost 190 million people whilst knocking $5 billion off GDP.

In the UK the problem has been rain and wind with many smaller ports unable to operate during the worst of the conditions which are now receding. Flooding once again in many low lying areas, particularly the South West and the East coast has caused roads to outlying areas to become impassable with villages in areas such as the Somerset Levels cut off completely for days at a time. Urban deliveries however have remained largely unaffected but the dispersal of the Polar storm in the US sees high winds and more rain set to cross the Atlantic in the next few days.