As we get closer to the first official day of winter (Dec 21), temperatures across the country are beginning to get chilly. As we approach winter, forecasts of expected temperatures grow clearer, giving diesel-consuming fleets a better outlook of how to prepare for the winter.
As all experienced diesel users know, diesel fuel gels at temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The waxy Paraffin molecules that give diesel its power start to congeal together, creating a waxy fallout that can clog filters and even shut down an engine. Even if the engine filter does not clog, the loss of those waxy molecules means the diesel fuel has a lower energy content, translating to less power and fuel efficiency. For fleets that must stay in action, taking early preparation to prevent fuel gelling is imperative.
Winter 2017-18 Forecast
At the time, La Niña has officially developed, and has a high probability of persisting through winter months. While last year saw weak La Niña activities and an all-time record warm winter, this year could be different. While some areas will see higher than average temperatures, Northern states should expect below-average temperatures this year. Cold weather from El Niña will begin on the East Coast and work its way West throughout the winter.
The latest weather outlook from the Weather Channel shows temperatures slightly below average in the north, where cold temperatures are already the norm. Currently, the South looks like it will avoid the severe cold and enjoy warmer than average temperatures, though not as warm as last year.
Source: Weather Channel
Keep in mind though, the map is only a three-month trend. Temperatures could drop well below average in the Southeast on certain days, while the North will surely get its share of mild winter days. Just like with hurricanes, being prepared for severe winter storms, even in uncommon areas, will ensure your fleets stay on the road.
Cold Weather Drives Diesel Prices
Cold weather in the north often corresponds with higher demand for heating oil (diesel), used to keep houses and buildings warm. Both natural gas and heating oil see strong demand during the winter as more energy is required to keep residents, workers, and equipment warm.
Diesel demand is already strong through the U.S. due to a strong economy. Adding in high winter demand has helped push diesel prices to two-year highs, with diesel crack spreads (the difference between a barrel of crude and a barrel of diesel fuel) rising significantly. For fleets throughout the U.S., though particularly in the Northeast, expect to pay a premium for your diesel fuel relative to last year.
That high demand will also translate to high kerosene premiums. Kerosene blends are often used to lower the cloud point of fuel, though blending can be a costly procedure. Last winter, ULS diesel #1 (kerosene) cost approximately $.40/gal more than normal diesel #2 fuel. With an 80/20 blend (80% diesel #2, 20% diesel #1) blend, that adds $.08 per gallon. With diesel demand strong and expected to rise this winter, kerosene blends could add even more expense.
Protect Your Fleet
Here are a few tips to help you keep your fleets protected this winter:
- Inspect your fuel tanks and drain any water. Water can ice in fuel tanks at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, creating ice particles that can damage fuel filters and engines. Water separators will separate the water out of fuel so the water can be pumped out. Water is your worst enemy when it comes to fuel quality, both in the winter and during the summer, so this is a good practice to perform regularly.
- Perform proactive maintenance. Low temperatures can put additional stress on your equipment, so it’s always a good idea to check for damaged or nearly-damaged engine components. Worn belts, brake pads, or belts can all be impacted by cold weather, potentially creating safety hazards for your drivers. Cold weather also drains batteries faster, which could leave your drivers stranded on the side of the road.
- Use winter diesel additives. Winter diesel additives are a standard response to diesel gelling – they prevent those waxy molecules from sticking together, so they can pass through your filters. Additives are far cheaper than kerosene blends, making them the affordable option. Some winter additives also contain detergency, lubricity, and cetane, which help keep your engines running at peak performance during the winter. Whether you receive regularly additized fuel or just keep some jugs on site for surprise cold snaps, winter diesel additives are a must-have for fleets.