Winter shipping temperature study

Steve123

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Winter shipping can be a challenge. Some say it is as much as art as a science. I have long wondered about cargo hold temperatures on airplanes as well as what happens at midwestern hubs with respect to packages and temperature. The following should be interesting and I hope helpful to shippers and recipients alike.

Two digitally recording temperature probes were included in a package sent east coast to west coast on Monday, December 19, 2016 -> Tuesday, December 20, 2016. One probe was inside the box, the other outside. Temperatures were recorded every 10 minutes. Packaging consisted of a 9 x 11 x 10 inch cooler-type styrofoam box with 1.5" walls and a 40+hr UniHeat pack taped to the bottom. Shredded paper was used for internal padding and both vials and internal temperature probe were placed in the center. The styrofoam box fit tightly inside a cardboard box. The outside temperature probe was placed in a narrow ‘side-car’ box with several holes punched into it with a pencil. The boxes were taped together.

Outside temperature according to timeanddate.com (local times):

6 p.m. Boston weather 19 - 21F (low - high)
12 a.m. Indianapolis weather 23 - 23F (low - high)
6 a.m. San Diego weather 52 - 73F (low - high)
12 p.m. San Diego weather 63 - 73F (low - high)

Time points according to tracking information (EST) 18:00 EST is 15:00 PT, or 3:00 p.m.; n.b., some of the FedEx time stamps may not correspond exactly to the presumed event. Much depends on precisely where in the process tracking information is collected.

Y- axis (18:30 ) box taped up and brought to the local FedEx office by car
A) 19:15 box dropped off at local FedEx office, placed on truck headed for Logan Airport
B) 10:51 box at the Logan Airport FedEx facility (origin)
C) 12:51 box arrives at Indianapolis hub
D) 6:15 box leaves Indianapolis hub
E) 10:07 box arrives in San Diego (destination)
F) 12:34 box at local FedEx facility
G) 13:02 box on FedEx vehicle for delivery
H) 18:11 delivered (late)

Conclusions:

(i) Segments BC and DE represent temperatures in cargo holds, showing modest variation during flights and roughly a 10 - 15F difference between two consecutive flights.

(ii) The lowest outside temperatures were recorded at the hub.

(iii) Temperatures inside the box stayed largely within 60 - 80F, sufficient in this instance for live arrival. Higher temperatures recorded at the end of the study are difficult to explain because San Diego reached a high of 73F on December 20, 2016. Possible explanations include differing local weather conditions, greenhouse effect (sun and low clouds reported), and/or probe overestimation of temperature.

I hope these data are interesting and useful to you. Further studies should help resolve some of the lingering questions. Many thanks to Noe Aquino (SDahmer) for his help in San Diego.

 
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Walker253

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I'd like to see an example on a package shipped from a warm weather climate to a cold weather climate. Either way, Priority overnight is essential in the winter.
 

KezyGLA

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Now this is a great study. I will link this to those who question winter shipping.

Winter shipping is perfectly safe if the packaging is done right!

Thank you for this info. :)
 

Thistles

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Beautiful work, Steve. Thank you for taking the time to conduct this test and to present it to us in such a clear way.

I wonder if the temperature spike at the end was because the internal temperature of the delivery truck was elevated. Even when it's relatively comfortable, cars get pretty hot inside. I bet the same is true of delivery trucks.
 

Paiige

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Thanks for doing this! I've been hesitant to order anything (I'm in MA also) so this makes me feel a lot better! I'm much more apt to believe proof than "I've never had a T die on me before so you'll be okay" :)
 

sdsnybny

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This study is great info, but I have never seen any dealer I have bought from use 1.5" thick styrofoam. Most use 1/2-1" thick styrofoam. I wonder what difference the extra thickness actually made versus the low end at 1/2" in the inside temp variance.
 

SDahmer

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First a big thanks to Steve for wonderful specimens and smooth transactions, also for taking the time and effort to gather such data.
One very important thing to note is the fact that the shipment was delayed and several hours late. It is likely, in my opinion, that had it been on time it wouldn't have experienced such a high temp upon arrival (note the drop in temp as the box was opened upon arrival). As Steve mentioned, being inside the truck with no air circulation could trap heat. I also think the truck would naturally experience higher temperatures due to radiating heat from the exhaust, engine, wheels, etc. The heat packs did seem necessary though, as there were some vey low temps, possibly due to elevation during flight? Perhaps someone can analyze the data better.
So, regardless of the difference in temperatures, all specimens arrived alive and well. One Kochiana brunnipes decided to kick most of her "copper patch" during shipment but is doing great! We aren't sure if the temp swing cause to do it or if she would've done it anyway.

Edit: I thought this is relevant to add. There were 18 specimens in the box ranging from 3/16" slings to 2",originating from both humid and dry areas.
 
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viper69

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This should be a sticky because people ask about this frequently and it's the only post I've seen on this backed up by data, other than "the T arrived alive".

Nice work @Steve123
 

viper69

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This study is great info, but I have never seen any dealer I have bought from use 1.5" thick styrofoam. Most use 1/2-1" thick styrofoam. I wonder what difference the extra thickness actually made versus the low end at 1/2" in the inside temp variance.
@Steve123 going to do another with thinner styrofoam?
 

Steve123

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The box I prefer for shipping to CA in the above weather conditions uses 3/4" styrofoam panels and a layer of bubblewrap with a reflective coating. I used the thick box to hedge for warm temperature recordings in this first trial. Ken uses this type of box and I've experienced plenty of his live arrivals first hand. The next round would be with thinner panels + lining.

I think @Walker253's idea of a warmer to colder weather test is another must-do trial. I'm intrigued by air cargo bay temperatures. At airline cruising altitudes, air temperature outside the plane is below freezing even in summer. Throughout the year the cargo bay has to be heated. Most sources seem to indicate airlines keep the bay above 60F, with some flexibility according to cargo contents and the pilot.

The greenhouse effect as a factor didn't occur to me when preparing for shipping to Noe. Above, Noe and Allison refer this effect with respect to truck cargo bay temperatures. It's the reason to look for a shady spot when parking your car on a hot summer day.

I was surprised by how much exposure to cold a package receives at the hub.
 

Chris LXXIX

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Interesting, but I stick to my views about... when it comes to Europe, since we here have to deal with different nations, therefore services/mail/issues etc it's a no way, especially with this polar F-Word cold we are facing now.

"Rest" in Winter, aside of course from point A to point B of the same nation, using a courier or another express delivery, with a 'Pro' packed/equipped parcel.
 

Matttoadman

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I now feel less stressed about my K. brunnipes and C. elegans heading my way wed!
 

edesign

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Steve, great information and well done! Very methodical, you make the engineer inside me very happy lol. Everyone has already touched on anything I can come up with. I love data as well and I've always been curious about this as well especially now that I live in Denver as opposed to south Louisiana.

I live where it can get pretty cold at times, nothing like my home state though (I've seen -78F without wind chill), and would be willing to cover half the shipping if you want to send a faux box with no critters in it for data recording purposes if/when the temperate next drops in to the single digits or teens here.

No lives risked other than the pilot of the jet but they're gonna do that anyway whether you launch, er, send probes or not, get data recordings from more extreme lows, and shipping is halved. Still leaves you with a lack of warm to cold. Is the interest there because you can't put heat packs shipping from hot to cold for fear the spiders will overheat?
 

Jeff23

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I have done Federal Express "Hold for Pickups" multiple times including my most recent order from Arachnoiden. Steve included a heat pack in the package as well and the package was waiting for me at approximately room temperature inside the box when I picked it up shortly after it arrived at the hold point.

EDIT* It was fairly cold (a little above freezing and rainy) that day here in SC.
 

Bugmom

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Considering the amount of liquids that people order, from eye drops to body lotion to wine, cargo holds (I'd think) would have to take into consideration the freezing of items in the cargo hold. Customers are not going to be happy if bottles are cracked and contents leaking out because they expanded due to freezing in flight.
 

Trenor

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Considering the amount of liquids that people order, from eye drops to body lotion to wine, cargo holds (I'd think) would have to take into consideration the freezing of items in the cargo hold. Customers are not going to be happy if bottles are cracked and contents leaking out because they expanded due to freezing in flight.
I would image they do but the range of temps allowable for liquid not to hard freeze and the temp range a sling needs to live is a lot different. A few days in the 40-45 temp range wont pop a bottle of water but it will take out most slings.
 
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