June 9, 2021


Hurricane season has officially made its downpour.

On June 1, the Atlantic hurricane season formally kicked off, setting the stage for an intense six-month period of gusting winds, heavy storms, and dangerous roads. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects there may be as many as ten hurricanes this season, which is three more than average. If true, 2021 would continue a six-year streak of above-average hurricane activity.

Through hurricanes, tornados, and even global pandemics, freight keeps moving. To help fleets prepare, I compiled comprehensive data from last year’s hurricane activity, analyzing its impact on the supply chain and various industry sectors.

Hurricanes can impact your business — even hundreds of miles away

When analyzing data from the Suez Canal crisis, the data team and I found clear patterns of impact from Egypt to the U.S. From even over 6,500 miles away, the supply chain is inherently interconnected. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that hurricanes have a similar influence — at the very least on a domestic scale — as lodged boats.

In the chart above, we can see the impact Category 2 Hurricane Sally had on Louisiana when it barreled down, along with its effect on surrounding states. Service areas were affected up to 200 miles away. In other data findings, hurricanes impacted service areas up to 400 miles away. That’s roughly the distance between New York City and Cleveland.

As evidenced, recovery can last many days after landfall. Resources flood the area, cleanup and construction are rampant, and fleets scramble to distribute delayed shipments. With Hurricane Sally, abnormal recovery activity lasted 15 days and began making a dip five days after the hurricane. As Labor Day weekend followed shortly after, it’s somewhat safe to assume the recovery period could have lasted much longer in the absence of the holiday movement and accelerated supply chain.

The pre-hurricane rush is a storm of its own

From excessive panic buying to accelerated shipments, many know firsthand how tumultuous the days before a hurricane can be.   

This graph, a visual representation of Category 4 Hurricane Laura, shows an uptick of activity before and after the hurricane, with a substantial downturn as the storm makes landfall. What’s most interesting is the last mile was far more impacted in the days before the hurricane. While over-the-road transportation activity increased by 2% during the ten days before the storm, last-mile activity increased by 17% starting twelve days before the hurricane.

Total miles driven is largely unaffected

As well all know, point A must reach point B at some point. Sure, hurricanes cause delays, but they don’t cancel out business needs or demand.

Here, our data concluded that the net effect on total miles driven (before, during, and after the hurricane) across four major industries remained largely unaffected. Both preparation and recovery miles made up for the losses felt during the landfall period.

Another interesting aspect is that, in this graph, retail reigned supreme in terms of sector impact. Like the last-mile example, the retail illustration signifies the level of impact is often granulated. Depending on the sector or location your business operates in — and also considering the supportive solutions and planning you have in place — you may be in for a turbulent six months if you’re not fully prepared.

Equip your cab when nature makes other plans

Hurricanes happen. They serve as a reminder that, no matter how much we want to control our outcomes and daily business goals, nature may derail us with a few outcomes of its own. Fortunately, you can still plan for the unplanned.

In addition to providing safety training to drivers and equipping cabs with emergency supplies, consider these three tech-focused suggestions:

1) Utilize technology built for the unexpected: From last-minute order changes to navigating through congested routes, enhanced routing and dispatch solutions with aligned and reliable route algorithms help drivers easily reroute while prioritizing their safety and convenience.

2) Protect drivers: Most drivers may know when they’re speeding, but not many can say they know which speeds to drive during dangerous weather. With hurricanes especially, hazardous weather is rampant before, during, and after the big storm. Utilize real-time weather insights and video safety to communicate to drivers when they need to slow down.

3) Remember the customer: Amid ensuring drivers are safe and paying attention to hourly weather updates, it’s challenging to consistently communicate with customers. Luckily, customers can receive proactive alerts to remain informed. Also, your phone lines won’t be overcrowded with delayed order complaints.

You may not be able to prevent hurricanes from raining down on your operation somewhat, but you can protect your fleet as much as possible with an umbrella of data and insights.

Good luck this hurricane season! Learn how you can protect truckers these next six months and well beyond with these five recommendations.