Expect slower and maybe even delayed delivery of Christmas packages, thanks to the snow

If you’re sending or receiving a lot of packages in the days before Christmas, you may have already been checking for delivery updates daily and reading with concern the news about possible delays due to overwhelming demand, all during a pandemic that has sickened essential workers.

Now add to that, a big nor’easter that dumped snow on Mid-Atlantic shipping hubs and highways a week before Christmas.

It’s certainly not going to help things at all. But is the storm going to mean some of your holiday packages won’t arrive on time?

So far, of the biggest shipping companies, only UPS has announced that the storm is negatively impacting their operations during the busiest time of year.

“Weather conditions around our regional hub in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania caused a disruption to operations. As a result, some shipments may experience unavoidable delays. Contingency plans are in place and UPS is working to move shipments to their final destinations as quickly as conditions permit,” the company said in a service alert Thursday.

Amazon said shoppers in areas affected by the snow may see slower delivery estimates when they’re checking out.

Satish Jindel, president of Pennsylvania-based ShipMatrix, which analyzes shipping package data, said he would expect to see the biggest problems for any shipping company that has their air operations impacted by snow or ice. For UPS, one of those hubs is in Philadelphia.

Travel restrictions also kept trucks and trailers off sections of seven major highways in New Jersey from 1 p.m. Wednesday till 11 a.m. Thursday.

Even without the travel restrictions, Jindel said ground transportation can be impacted just by drivers going slower in bad weather.

“What that means is a trip that would have taken 10 hours now takes 12, and it just snowballs from there,” he said.

FedEx, which has shipping hubs in Newark and the Lehigh Valley, both of which got a lot of snow, has not announced any delays.

George Flood, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in North Jersey, said mail services have been impacted by the storm across the Northeast.

“With 6 to 12 inches of snow on the ground here in Northern New Jersey, it is important to bear in mind that the Postal Service treats safety and service with equal priority,” he said. “We are currently flexing our available resources as possible and advancing deliveries in the aftermath of the snowstorm in those Northern New Jersey communities and neighborhoods where it is safe to do so.”

He said 358 of the 385 post offices in North Jersey were open Thursday. Residents can improve their chances of getting packages in a timely manner by making sure their mailboxes haven’t been plowed in and are clear of snow.

Representatives of the postal service and shipping companies have urged people to keep an eye on shipping deadlines this year more than ever, due to the fact that more people are shopping online and sending gifts as they choose not to travel or go to brick-and-mortar stores.

Jindel said the USPS is doing its best to deal with the glut of packages that have been exacerbated by shipping companies limiting the number of parcels a company can ship with them. The postal service isn’t allowed to do the same, so companies just send all those extra parcels via USPS, he said, adding to the crush of shipments at the holidays.

Trucks wait to unload USPS packages at Cleveland distribution center, Decmber 15, 2020

Semi tractor trailer trucks wait on outside a USPS distribution center in Cleveland to unload their parcels Dec. 15, 2020.John Kuntz, cleveland.com

“While every year the Postal Service carefully plans for peak holiday season, a historic record of holiday volume compounded by a temporary employee shortage due to the COVID-19 surge, and capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking for moving this historic volume of mail are leading to temporary delays. These challenges are being felt by shippers across the board,” the USPS said in a statement.

Many of those deadlines have already passed. For USPS Priority Mail Express service and First-Class Mail service should be sent by Friday, all Priority Mail by Saturday and any Priority Mail Express packages sent by Dec. 23.

UPS ground shipment deadlines vary and are listed on the company’s website.

FedEx ground deadlines have past but other options are still available into next week.

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Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.

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