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How do Hurricanes Affect the Trucking Industry?

We understand the logistics when it comes to localized shipping and delivery in areas affected by a hurricane or other natural disaster…

Before the storm, the focus is on moving freight into the area to assist with emergency preparedness, as well as moving freight out of the area to avoid damage and loss. During the storm, emergency responders such as FEMA start moving freight to sites just outside the storm zone which will serve as temporary holding areas until the road conditions are stable enough for them to safely reach their destinations. When the storm passes, more emergency freight will be brought into the area. Usually van and reefer loads move in first. Then flatbed trucks (which have the best chance of landing FEMA contracts) bring in construction equipment that is used for cleanup and rebuilding. While most carriers experience a drastic downturn in loads to or from disaster areas, flatbed carriers typically experience a huge opportunity in assisting the government in relief efforts — and they’re typically paid quite generously.

What many people don’t understand is how the entire country is affected when a disaster strikes in any one region. More than a week after Hurricane (Tropical Storm) Florence made landfall in the Carolinas, more than 800 roads, bridges and portions of interstate highways still remained closed. As of September 24th, only 300 of those had been reopened. The closures, including parts of I-95, a major corridor which runs down most of the eastern coast, caused thousands of truck drivers to drive hundreds of miles out of their way.

Two weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas last year, nearly 10% of the national trucking industry was still struggling. One month out, 2% of trucks in the U.S. were still affected as were a staggering 25% of trucks on a regional level.

After a hurricane there are fewer trucks on the road. When the infrastructure is damaged, trucks have to sit idle waiting for loading docks and the roads that lead to them to be cleared, which means that shipments wait as well. Because Houston is a prominent freight hub, the total number of freight loads fell by 10% nationally and 72% out of Houston after Harvey. With two of the country’s top six distribution hubs located on the east coast, the fallout after Florence may be just as severe.

A large number of trucks are needed to transport shipments of emergency relief, construction products and construction equipment into the area ravaged by Hurricane Florence. Trucks are also needed to transport debris out of the area. History has shown that the majority of shipments in and out of disaster areas are related to rebuilding the area, even months later. This means pulling the few available trucks out of their usual circulation to meet relief efforts, which creates new supply and demand obstacles that put even more of a strain on the trucking industry.

When there is low supply and high demand, prices soon soar. Which has a huge impact on both transportation businesses trying to survive and their clients who need low shipping costs to maintain healthy margins.

The bottom line is this — there has been a drastic disruption of the trucking industry with regards to changes in supply, demand, cost and general flow patterns due to the effects of a hurricane and extreme weather. It will take time, reorganization and patience to recover. In the meantime, we can all help by donating to the American Red Cross and working diligently (in whatever capacity) to get trucks back on the road.

 

To donate to hurricane relief, please click here.