Shipping Companies Struggle to Stay Ahead of the Weather

By Sullivan, Brian K. | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), December 22, 2017 | Go to article overview

Shipping Companies Struggle to Stay Ahead of the Weather


Sullivan, Brian K., The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


By Brian K. Sullivan Bloomberg

Just after midnight on a freezing Tennessee night, the sky is filled with a moving constellation of jets making their final approaches to FedEx Corp.'s exclusive runways at the Memphis airport.

Every seat in the control room is filled. The unstoppable sweep of the minute hand around the clock pushes the shipper and its rival United Parcel Service Inc. toward an immovable deadline - Dec. 25.

On a screen as large as a sports arena's jumbotron, a team of dispatchers and meteorologists watches planes crossing a global map in real-time. Even without a major storm in Christmas week, the busiest time of year for shippers, they must stay ahead of everything from California wildfires to Indonesian volcanoes to ensure packages land on your doorstep in time for the holiday.

"Weather impacts us every day, everywhere, in some form, said Kory Gempler, manager of FedEx's 15-member meteorology department, one of the largest in the business. "If we get snow and ice here, and we have to de-ice 140 aircraft that are supposed to take off in two hours, that's a challenge.

FedEx Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith told analysts this week the company was on track for a record season of deliveries this season. Between them, UPS and FedEx will deliver an estimated 1.1 billion holiday packages. An error predicting wandering storms, wild winds or thick fog can trigger a ripple of delays, costing them millions.

While the week has been mild across much of the eastern U.S., winter storm warnings and advisories have spread from the West to the Great Lakes. …

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