By now, Supply Chain Matters readers may have already read the headlines of a wave of devastating tornadoes that ripped across six U.S. states this weekend.

The National Weather Service had tracked upwards of 37 tornadoes that impacted portions of Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Reportedly, one particular tornado created a path of devastation up to 250 miles long, and if confirmed, will likely establish a record for the longest track. Wind speeds were estimated to be in the range of 150 to 200 miles per hour at the peak of the outbreaks.

One particular area of vast destruction was in portions of Kentucky, where rescue and recovery efforts remain ongoing. Much of the city of Mayfield, Kentucky was reportedly razed. A candle factory with 110 workers was working overtime to complete holiday orders. As we pen this update, eight workers have been confirmed dead and eight remain missing. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear indicated this morning that the state’s confirmed death toll stood at 64 but could rise to as much as 80 as rescuers and emergency services crews continue with their efforts.


Amazon Facility Experiences Catastrophic Damage

A prominent headline and video visual was the partial roof collapse and devastation that occurred at an Amazon last-mile delivery sortation station in Edwardsville Illinois, near St. Louis, Missouri. This facility reportedly employs upwards of 190 workers, but at the time of the incident, there was a shift change underway reducing the overall number. Published reports indicate that the facility received severe storm alerts from emergency agencies between 8 pm and 8:16 pm, and workers were directed to shelter to designated areas. According to Amazon, a tornado formed in the parking lot before striking the building at 8:27 pm local time. At least six workers have been confirmed dead thus far, while recovery efforts in searching the debris continue.

Bloomberg’s coverage of the Amazon incident pointed out that the tragedy amplified concerns among operational workers regarding their employer’s enforcement of a mobile phone ban. While on site management had communication to storm warnings and emergency responders, workers lacking mobile devices reportedly were frustrated that they did not have the ability to communicate with either emergency responders or with family and loved ones. Amazon declined to comment, indicating to Bloomberg that assistance to first responders was the company’s prime focus. Further, Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos reportedly fueled added bad feelings by spending early Saturday admiring the launch of another Blue Origin celebrity space launch before issuing a later statement commenting on the tragedy at the Edwardsville facility.


Transportation and Logistics Impacts

In addition to the direct devastation caused by the multiple tornadoes, FedEx’s Memphis Tennessee air hub experienced what was described as a significant operational disruption. The Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), a major hub for air cargo movements including those of Amazon and DHL dis not appear to be operationally impacted. Truck and rail movements in the impacted areas may experience some disruptions before roads and rails are cleared.


Impacts of Climate Change

On Saturday, President Joseph Biden indicated that the cascading severe storms were “likely one of the largest tornado outbreaks in our history.” The President granted a request for a national disaster declaration involving the State of Kentucky and further indicated he would consider similar requests from other impacted states. He further noted that this severe weather occurrence was yet another incident the severe climate events that have been occurring.

What makes this tragedy especially concerning beyond the death toll and devastation is that tornadoes of this strength and devastation have not previously in this region during December. Researchers indicate that in recent years tornadoes seem to be occurring in greater “clusters,” and that a termed tornado alley in the Great Plains — where most tornadoes occur would appear to be shifting eastward.

Readers might recall the severe cold and winter storms that impacted large parts of Texas and Oklahoma earlier this year. Unprecedented snowfall and bone chilling cold was an all-time first with the Dallas- Fort Worth region itself experiencing a low temperature of minus 2 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking an all-time record. The effects of the disruption caused was subsequently felt by a number of industry supply chains throughout the second part of this year, especially in the petro chemical derivatives area.


Supply Chain Matters extends sympathies to all of those that were impacted by this weekend’s devastating events.


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