After a strong start to the month, freight activity and rates on the spot truckload market tapered off during the week ending Jan. 25 compared to the previous seven days, according to the DAT network of load boards.

Overall load volume also fell, dropping 11.9%, while capacity barely moved higher, up 0.4%.

“Weather was a likely factor due to subzero temperatures to key areas of the country,” said DAT.

The average van rate fell 1 cent to $1.94 per mile including fuel surcharge, still 21 cents higher than the average in January 2013.

In the Northeast, the average outbound rate from Buffalo fell 6 cents to $1.87 per mile while Philadelphia was down 7 cents to $1.80 per mile. In the Midwest, the average rate from Chicago was unchanged at $2.17 per mile while the rate from Columbus, Ohio, fell 11 cents to $2.04 per mile. In the Southeast, the average rate out of Atlanta was down 2 cents to $1.91, while Memphis dropped 7 cents to $2.22 per mile. Average outbound van rates remained strong across much of the West, including Los Angeles at $2.05 per mile.

Nationally, van-load volume declined 15.6% while the number of available trucks increased 9.9%. As a result, the load-to-truck ratio was 3.7, down 23.2% from the prior week. Load-to-truck ratios represent the number of loads posted for every truck posted on the DAT network of load boards.

Demand for reefers slipped for the second straight week, dropping 17.1%. Reefer capacity increased 7.9% and the load-to-truck ratio dropped 23.2% to 11.5 compared to 15.0 the previous week. The national average reefer rate fell 6 cents to $2.06 per mile as demand slowed.

Flatbed demand decreased 4.4% compared to the prior week, while capacity dropped 18%. This pushed the flatbed load-to-truck ratio up 16.5% to 17.1 compared to 14.7 the prior week. The national average rate for flatbeds held steady at $2.07 per mile.

Fuel was another important storyline due to diesel prices jumping 3 cents a gallon nationally last week. Areas hard hit by winter are seeing steeper increases; the average for the Northeast was up 8 cents to $4.14 a gallon.

Looking ahead to next week’s numbers, DAT Analyst Mark Montague said port closures have introduced kinks into the supply chain, as well. This week, port activities are suspended in Houston, New Orleans, Mobile and Charleston.

“These ports handle container traffic to and from South America and Europe, and they serve some of the largest population centers on the continent. Airports have been closed intermittently as well. Most recently, Chicago's O'Hare was shut down and thousands of flights cancelled. Some of those flights carry freight, too,” he said.