OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Whether you're ready to ship that holiday package across the country or waiting for your next shipment of cooking grease, now's not the best time to be in a hurry.
Businesses small and large are waiting for pickups and consumers across the land are receiving notices that their packages will be delayed because of a massive, icy blast that will eventually hit from coast-to-coast.
For people who rely on the shipping industry, the storm comes at the worst time: the height of the holiday mailing season. "Really with this event, we are looking at it almost like we would a hurricane," said Lucas McDonald, a senior emergency manager for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Knowing hazardous conditions were coming, the company shipped extra merchandise to stores ahead of the storm.
"As we get to this point, in some cases we have had to take our drivers off the road, and so that's OK because we've already got the merchandise there," said McDonald, a former TV meteorologist. Carlos Suarez, who usually shops online, received a notice Thursday that a video game he ordered on Amazon couldn't be delivered within two days — contrary to the $80 fee he pays each year to guarantee rapid deliveries.
"In this situation it was just a dumb video game," Suarez said. "We sometimes order medicine through the mail and that could have been a little more frustrating." Memphis, Tenn.,-based FedEx, too, notified customers of delays, taking cues from a team of 15 meteorologists to highlight on its website the winter storm that started along the west coast and reached Ohio and western Pennsylvania on Friday.
"On any given day we have 1,000 contingency plans in place," FedEx spokesman Scott Fiedler said. "What we're doing is pinpointing the forecast down to basically a piece of real estate. It could be a mile or two-mile runway at 3 a.m., what's going to happen to that."
At UPS' Global Operations Centers in Louisville, Ky., five meteorologists monitor global weather around the clock. At the National Weather Center in Norman, Kevin Kloesel, the associate dean for public service and outreach, said many companies hire their own weathermen to help ensure goods aren't stopped halfway to their destination.
"Over the last decade we've seen an explosion of private weather companies that can satisfy the niche that is required by the retailer, which is a point forecast for either a store or a detailed forecast for a route," he said.
But one doesn't have to run a major corporation to be troubled by this kind of weather. In Oklahoma City, Array of Flowers owner Nita Dillard usually relies on a local co-op to brighten up days in gloomy weather but workers Friday had to brave icy and snow-packed city streets to make deliveries themselves.
"The biggest problem we have is that it's going to take us a whole lot longer. We're going to have to move a lot slower, but we'll get them there eventually," Dillard said. It helps that there are few cars on the road, as many people just elect to stay inside.
The uncongested roads are a blessing, too, to Jonathan Odom, an independent truck driver from Oklahoma City who hauled watermelons and pineapples from Galveston, Texas, to ice-stricken Dallas early Friday and was waiting in Fort Worth for a load of cooking grease.
"I live for this stuff," Odom said. "Any time there's bad weather like this, I like getting out in the middle of it." Odom, who planned to drive to Oklahoma City Friday afternoon, acknowledged poor road conditions slow him down, but he said it's just a matter of being aware.
"You just have to plan," he said. "It doesn't seem it's quite as bad with other truck drivers, as it is with people in their cars."
Associated Press writers Heather Hollingsworth and Bill Draper in Kansas City, Mo., and Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
Follow Kristi Eaton on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kristieaton .