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Cash Market Moves             02/22 08:57

   Extreme Cold, Snow and Ice Cause Transportation Nightmares

   After mild temperatures graced much of the Midwest in January, arctic air 
moved in after the first week of February with a vengeance, creating logistic 
snafus on U.S. railroads and much of the U.S. river system. 

Mary Kennedy
DTN Basis Analyst

   As of the beginning of the week of Feb. 15, in response to forecasts of snow 
and ice storms, fleet movements were suspended on the Mississippi River around 
St. Louis, as well as on the Ohio River, Illinois River and Lower Mississippi 
River areas, noted the USDA in their weekly Grain Transportation report.

   American Commercial Barge Line (ACBL) noted on their website that, as of 
Feb. 8, they went from 15 to nine barges on all Illinois River southbound tows 
and ceased any northbound tow movement into the river for the safety of 
personnel and equipment.

   At Thomas J. O'Brien Lock and Dam, the United States Army Corps of Engineers 
(USACE) Rock Island District reported the river was 100% covered with 
6-inch-thick ice extending five miles upstream, noted the Waterways Journal in 
their weekly newsletter on Feb. 16. At Marseilles Lock and Dam, there was 100% 
coverage of 4-inch-thick ice extending three miles upstream.

   ACBL said on their website that USACE was implementing an 89-foot width 
restriction at Lagrange, Peoria, Starved Rock and Marseilles lock, reducing tow 
sizes down to six barges starting around Feb. 11, basically "driving the 
industry off the river and ceasing river operations."

   For the week ended Feb. 13, USDA's Grain Transportation report noted that 
total down-bound grain barge movements were only 679,681 tons, a 14% drop from 
the previous week and 34% drop from two weeks ago. The decrease occurred 
despite strong export demand due to icy water conditions slowing barge 

   On Feb. 19, the National Weather Service (NWS) Missouri Basin River Forecast 
Center said on their Facebook page that there is an ice jam that is continuing 
in the lower Missouri River. "It appears the jam may be extending from just 
upstream of Jefferson City, Missouri, all the way to Waverly, Missouri. This 
would be approximately 147 miles," said the NWS. "We believe the last time this 
much ice formed on the river was 1986. Formations -- ice bridges, in this case, 
normally melt without incident, however, larger chunks do pose a threat to 
barges, docks and our stone river structures that shape the flow into scouring 
the navigation channel.

   In their Feb. 11 Spring Flood Outlook, the National Weather Service noted 
that "due to the prolonged period of well below normal temperatures, ice 
formation and thickness will increase on area rivers, raising the potential for 
ice jams at some point this spring. With ice now in place on most rivers, the 
potential for ice jams will be focused on the period of time when ice breaks up 
on the rivers." 


   On Feb. 5, the entire Great Lakes ice coverage was only at 8.3%. As of Feb. 
20, Great Lakes ice coverage had grown to 44.7%. NOAA scientists had projected 
the maximum Great Lakes ice cover for 2021 would be 30%, with the maximum 
typically occurring between mid-February and early March. At the end of 
January, the ice coverage on Lake Superior was well below average at 4% 
coverage. Thoughts of an early opening to the spring grain shipping season 
quicky vanished after the arctic air moved in and on Feb. 21, Lake Superior ice 
coverage had grown to 48.2%.


   When temperatures remain well below zero, it negatively affects railroad 
performance. According to the BNSF, additional locomotives are usually required 
to generate proper airflow for trains' braking systems and there can be reduced 
productivity at terminals due to multiple switch and airflow issues across 

   In a Feb. 19 update to customers, the BNSF said that recovery efforts are 
ongoing as BNSF teams are making progress in restoring normal operations. 
"After another frigid morning across much of the network, including 
record-breaking low temperatures in Texas, weather conditions are improving, 
and operating teams are fully engaged in driving improved service performance 
heading into the weekend.

   "As we have reported, the extreme weather experienced this week across our 
north region, through the central core of the network and deep into Texas 
caused a broad range of major service challenges. Many trains were forced to 
hold due to airflow issues resulting from the arctic cold. We also confronted 
significant snow and/or ice accumulations from the Pacific Northwest to the 
Gulf Coast, including in key locations like Chicago, Kansas City, Tulsa, Fort 
Worth and Memphis. Numerous power outages this week, particularly in Texas, 
also impacted crew deployments and other personnel," said the BNSF.


   The Union Pacific noted in a customer update on Feb. 20 that "we continue to 
make progress with our recovery efforts as the arctic weather has subsided 
throughout our network." In the Midwest region, the Chicago terminal is still 
recovering from significant snowfall and working to resume normal operations. 
In the Southern region, UP said that road conditions south of Little Rock, 
Arkansas, continue to impact their ability to transport crews. "Areas within 
Arkansas and Missouri continue to recover from an extended snowfall event and 
are working to resume normal operations. While the number of locations 
operating with the use of generators has decreased significantly, our 
engineering team continues to install and relocate generators across portions 
of South Texas. We continue to rebalance our crews to align with train flows in 
South Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Southern Missouri," said the UP.

   The cash corn basis for shuttles delivered to the Pacific Northwest was 15 
cents stronger the past week as logistics became tight due to the 
weather-related problems. BNSF secondary shuttle freight also rose the past 
week with February rising to bids of $600 per car above tariff against offers 
of $1,000. UP secondary freight also moved higher February with bids at $500 
over against offers of $1,000. CIF NOLA basis was also firm the past week as 
barges struggled to make their way down to the Gulf because of the poor river 


   On Feb. 17, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) 
declared that an emergency existed, warranting issuance of a Regional Emergency 
Declaration and an exemption from Parts 390 through 399 of the Federal Motor 
Carrier Safety (FMCSRs), except as otherwise restricted in this Emergency 
Declaration. Such emergency is in response to damage and heating and other fuel 
shortages from severe winter storms in affected states.

   The Declaration addresses the emergency conditions creating a need for 
immediate transportation of persons, supplies, goods, equipment and heating 
fuels, including propane, natural gas, heating oil and other fuel products and 
provides necessary relief, noted the FMCSA on their website. The declaration is 
effective until the end of the emergency or through March 4, whichever is 

   Affected states and jurisdictions included in this Emergency Declaration 
are: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, 
Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, 
Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, 
North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode 
Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and 


   Mary Kennedy can be reached at mary.kennedy@dtn.com

   Follow her on Twitter @MaryCKenn

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