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.