UpdateChem traffic freezes as snow clogs roads in eastern US

12 February 2010 23:19  [Source: ICIS news]

Record snow hits US(adds paragraphs 5-7, 17-19, 25)

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--Record snowfall on the US east coast has disrupted air travel and chemical shipments, and more interruptions could be on the way next week, sources said on Friday.

Record amounts of snow have fallen at airports serving Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Atlantic City, New Jersey, according to the National Weather Service.

Baltimore, Maryland, reported nearly 80 inches (203 cm) of snow, breaking the 1995-1996 record of 62.5 inches, the National Weather Service said.

The snowfall in Washington, DC disrupted activity in much of the nation's capital. In fact, the offices of the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) were closed because of the weather.

The heavy snow has disrupted much of the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) industry in the eastern US, a vinyls buyer said.

The snow has stopped distribution lines and prevented installation of PVC pipe.

Demand and pricing will likely be affected, the buyer said. However, the full effects are not yet clear, since more bad weather is on the way.

As a result of the bad weather, railcar and truck distribution of ethylene glycol (EG) is off by about 50%, a trader said. The constrained shipments are keeping the markets tight, the trader said.

Shipments along the Chicago river are unaffected, since the waterway is normally shut down during the winter, the trader said.

The snow has yet to affect business at Kirby, the nation's largest inland barge company, said spokesman Steve Holcomb.

"There's some concern about high water once all the snow starts melting, though," he said.

US shipments of biodiesel and acrylonitrile (ACN) are having no problems because spot business is largely absent, market participants said. Likewise, soda ash was unaffected, because production is based in Wyoming, on the opposite side of the country, participants said.

However, the bad weather has interrupted air travel on a massive scale, causing about 13,000 cancelled flights from 5-10 February, said David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association (ATA), a trade group that represents the nation's major airlines. The cancellations affected nearly 1m passengers.

"I cannot recall a weather event of such breadth having such an impact in the industry in over a decade," Castelveter said.

The last time the airline industry suffered from such a large disruption was during the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, he said.

The weather cancellations, however, may have little effect on demand for jet fuel or de-icer, Castelveter said.

When flights are cancelled, airlines typically deploy their planes to another part of the country, Castelveter said. As a result, the planes are still flying and burning jet fuel.

In Washington, record-setting snowfall accumulations resulting from back-to-back 36-hour blizzards on 5 February and 9 February caused an unprecedented four-day closure of all US government offices for Monday through Thursday this week.

In addition, the US Senate and House of Representatives cancelled all hearings and conferences for much of the week.  Many members of Congress and most congressional staff were unable to get to the snow-bound Capitol. 

Because the three major airports serving Washington were shut down - along with Amtrak rail service into the city - witnesses scheduled to testify at various hearings could not reach the city.

The Washington, DC area - one of the hardest hit regions in the US - was expected to receive a weekend break from the snow, with sunny conditions in the forecast, according to the US National Weather Service. However, the temperatures were unlikely to melt much of the region’s snow pack.

Complicating matters, a low-pressure system moving into the area would bring a 50% chance of additional snow on Monday, the National Weather Service said, noting that it was too early to forecast accumulations.

For the southern US, the service warned of heavy snowfall. The warning extended from northeast Texas and included much of the southeast US.

Already, the system brought 12.5 inches of snow in Dallas, Texas on Thursday, setting a record there for 24-hour snowfall.

Petrochemical plants along the Gulf coast were unaffected, as they have not seen any significant snowfall.

(Additional reporting by Ben DuBose, Lane Kelley, Ben Lefebvre, Gene Lockard, Joe Kamalick and Judith Taylor)

For more on ACN, EG or PVC visit ICIS chemical intelligence
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