Among the hallmarks of a successful trucking operation is outstanding planning and scheduling – having trucks where they are supposed to be as often as possible. But bad weather can disrupt even the best plans, especially when it brings adverse driving conditions and road closures. Trucking companies operating in areas with a history of adverse weather plan for such things.
Transport America, Eagan, Minn., had been using a manual system for the task until it deployed ALK Maps with Weather Alerts earlier this year. With the manual system, managers periodically reviewed weather information, analyzed which trucks might be affected by the bad weather and then relayed that information to fleet leaders and drivers.
“We would send out a message with weather hot spots around the country. Then it was up to the driver to use that information,” says Tom Benusa, chief information officer. “It was very manual, it was labor intensive, there were certainly missed opportunities there.”
Since implementing the Weather Alerts system, “the bottom line is we were able to keep trucks moving when they might have otherwise been unaware that the roads were closed, keep the truck moving around the storm.” Benusa noted that was on a “limited basis. If the storm is big and broad, it’s hard for us to drive around that.” In such cases, drivers are told to wait until the storm passes before continuing. For isolated storms, however, “we now have tools to be proactive,” he says.
The Weather Alerts system allows the company to integrate severe weather alerts from the National Weather Service with Transport America’s internal alert system. Now a fleet-wide macro is sent to fleet leaders and drivers identifying potential weather events, updating information every 20 minutes.
The company has fine-tuned the system since deploying it in January. “We’ve learned which weather events we need to worry about and those we don’t,” Benusa says. They have also learned that the National Weather Service is not always consistent. As summer approaches, the system will be used to better manage summertime weather, such as severe thunderstorm warning or tornado warnings. “We can do something with that information.”
Benusa expects additional learning and tweaking between now and next winter. “By the time we get to next winter, we’ll be using the product in new and more effective ways than we did this year,” he says.
One of the projects is to create truck-specific weather maps rather than a weather macro for the entire fleet. “If there is no weather near (a particular truck), we won’t send out a weather macro.”