A major blizzard is winding up for a strike on the northeast quadrant of the U.S. that could disrupt supply chain operations this week just as health officials begin distributing precious doses of the Covid-19 vaccine and as parcel carriers struggle under the weight of their busiest week of the year.
Set to begin at mid-day Wednesday, the storm could unload a foot of snow over major population centers including Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. At the same time, high winds from the winter nor-easter could pile that snow into deep drifts and cause coastal flooding, according to a forecast from Riskpulse, a Texas-based supply chain risk analytics company.
That scenario would make it the biggest December storm in the region in a decade, dating back to the Boxing Day Blizzard of 2010, which shut down the eastern seaboard from December 24-27, the firm said.
Those impacts could force reduced operations or even closures at major cargo airports like New York’s John F. Kennedy, New Jersey’s Newark, and Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia, as well as the maritime ports of New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, Riskpulse said. Road travel could also be snarled, as snow stacks up on interstate highways including long stretches of I-81, I-95, and I-76.
In fact, the National Weather Service says travel is not recommended for a broad swath of territory stretching from the central Appalachians and interior Mid-Atlantic into portions of the Northeast and southern New England. However, forecasters say the storm’s main brunt could vary widely depending whether the precipitation falls as rain or snow. “The greatest uncertainty with the system remains with the rain/snow line. A very slight adjustment to the north or south could mean for vastly different outcomes in local areas,” the federal forecast said.
Wherever it hits, the storm’s timing means it could affect major logistics operations as carriers hustle to deliver the floor of gifts and packages that enter the system during the holiday peak rush. It will arrive right in the middle of the U.S. Postal Service’s busiest week of the holiday mailing and shipping season, which is December 14-21, the agency said.
USPS has already extended its operating hours as it has stretched its resources to handle conditions including pandemic health restrictions, a record number of mail-in ballots during the presidential election, and belt-tightening budget changes enacted by a new postmaster general. “This has been an extraordinary year of unprecedented challenges given the Covid-19 pandemic — and the Postal Service is expecting significant increases in the volume of mail and packages. Sunday delivery has been expanded in select high package volume locations, and the agency already delivers packages on Sundays in most major cities,” USPS said in a release.
The threatening storm would be the latest natural event to ravage the U.S. in an extraordinary year that has already seen the impacts of a warming climate lead to flooding in the midwest, wildfires in California, and a relentless series of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.