CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
October 18, 2018
Perspective
Perspective

Greetings from snow-covered Boston

Comment
Unusually severe weather events have an enormous impact on supply chains. But there's only so much you can do to plan for them.

This column is about the weather. That is because I live and work near Boston, Mass., where more than 90 inches of snow has fallen in the past three weeks, and there is not much else to talk about here.

While the majority of the weather coverage in the media has focused on the travails of homeowners and snow-removal crews, the seemingly endless snowfall is having an effect on supply chains as well. Retailers, who cannot keep up with demand for snow-fighting tools like shovels, snow blowers, ice melting chemicals, and roof rakes, have also had difficulty at times keeping food and household items in stock. With roads closed or narrowed and highway traffic frequently at a standstill, truck drivers are finding it impossible to make deliveries on time. Weather-disabled trains, iced-in harbors, closed airports, and more than 100 roof collapses in public, private, and commercial buildings have all contributed to weeks of disruption. And there's more to come.

As ARC Advisory Group's Clint Reiser (another Boston-area resident) explained in his February 11 Logistics Viewpoints commentary titled "Is your supply chain weatherproof?", in some respects, planning for weather events is like other types of risk planning: It is all about variability, disruption, and uncertainty. But here's where it differs. Although sales histories can reveal the past impact of specific weather events on demand, that information is of limited value for inventory forecasting purposes, he notes. That's because predicting individual weather events, including their length and severity, is a matter of probability, and some events are so rare that it may not be worth planning for them.

Realistically, Reiser says, "assuming variation from one winter (or hurricane season) to the next is essentially random." The critical adjunct to forecasting, he continues, is "adaptation at an operational level." Technology, such as sophisticated routing software, and tools like risk management playbooks can help supply chain organizations formulate operational responses to weather-related disruptions. But sometimes—as we here in Boston have learned—Mother Nature simply has the upper hand.

To read Reiser's commentary and (for those of you from warmer climes) see a photo of a roof rake in action, click here.

Contributing Editor Toby Gooley is a freelance writer and editor specializing in supply chain, logistics, material handling, and international trade. She previously was Editor at CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. and Senior Editor of SCQ's sister publication, DC VELOCITY. Prior to joining AGiLE Business Media in 2007, she spent 20 years at Logistics Management magazine as Managing Editor and Senior Editor covering international trade and transportation. Prior to that she was an export traffic manager for 10 years. She holds a B.A. in Asian Studies from Cornell University.

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