Future of Road Weather
Melanie Scott, Marketing Manager at Vaisala and contributor to Vaisala News, recently spoke with Ms. Adams to get her thoughts about the future of road weather.
Vaisala News (VN): Hi, Rachel. Tell me a little about your role at Vaisala.
Rachel Adams (RA): Hi Melanie, I am the newly appointed Head of Transportation Weather Consulting. I lead a team of experts in understanding the impact of weather on transportation networks. It is our responsibility to assist our customers in developing improvements to their operations, to combat the adverse effects of the weather and ensure safe passage, whether that be on the road, at the port or airport. We have team members in North America, UK and Europe.
VN: Interesting, is weather consulting new to Vaisala?
RA: Weather consulting is not new to Vaisala but our consultant capabilities have grown and become more focused in the last few years. In acquiring Thermal Mapping International Ltd in the late 80’s, Vaisala delivered the world’s first Thermal Mapping service which set the foundation for developing a road weather information system. For the first time, Vaisala was able to consult with our customers to optimize the location of installation of weather stations to provide the best return on investment. So, for example, a highway operator may realize that they need to measure observations on their road network, and know that to do that, a road weather station is the solution. By utilizing Thermal Mapping, the weather station may be sited in the optimum location, to ensure the observations are accurately representing the network. Through such consultation with the highway operator, we are able to maximize the return on the investment and ensure that the customers’ assets work the hardest for them.
VN: What are some of the biggest challenges that roadway customers are asking you to help them solve today?
RA: One common theme globally is the need to ensure optimum mobility and safety whilst at the same time financial pressures mean budgets are decreasing. Modern technology also brings its own challenges, while the number of vehicles on the roadway is increasing so to is the amount of data about those vehicles. The challenge for the highway customer is how to sift out the useful data and make it work for them to improve safety and mobility. And of course, the weather remains as challenging as ever, whether it be large snow storms such as those seen in North America last year or the high rainfall resulting in flooding in many parts of Europe.
VN: Thinking of the role of weather and weather data, how do you picture roadways in the future – say 20 years from now – what do you think customers will be asking your consulting team then?
RA: Great question! Of course, we are moving into a world of the connected vehicle. It would be inconceivable to think of a safe, connected vehicle network without an input of weather data. The key will be to ensure that the weather data is accurate and reliable. To do that, it will be necessary to link it to ground truth measurements. Data that is consistently and accurately measured becomes the control for all other weather data collected through various forms, such as windshield wipers, vehicle braking etc. I am sure our team will have a role to play in ensuring the correct location for such sites, and ensure that the data is used to its best effect.
Even in the world of the connected vehicle, there will still be an expectation to be able to drive on a roadway safely in adverse weather conditions. The requirement will remain to treat networks to prevent ice formation and the need to optimize routes, fleet, and operations to do that efficiently and quickly will remain. I'm sure our team of experts will be providing network optimization services in 20 years time!
VN: I agree. Trusting the data will be critical to using it in connected vehicles. Do you think big data companies, such as Google or Microsoft, would benefit from weather consultation from Vaisala if they plan to further contribute information to connected systems or connected vehicles?
RA: I certainly believe that there is a role to play with big data companies regarding weather consultation from Vaisala and the contribution to connected vehicles. Data is available in many forms, it can be sliced and diced in several ways. The true value to the connected vehicle world is in the synthesis of data sets to make meaningful data. Only by doing that from a background of understanding the impact of weather on safety and mobility will the most valuable information be delivered to the traveling public.
VN: Along with the road stations and your consulting services, I imagine that with Vaisala's long history in road weather, that you have educational resources for highway agencies to reference for best practices and tools to manage their routes. Where can customers find those resources, and what are some other sources outside of Vaisala where customers can educate themselves on building a road weather plan?
RA: We are privileged within the Transportation Weather Consulting team to have worked with a large number of customers across the globe. In doing so we have obtained great insight and understanding of the challenges, and we have been able to work together with our customers to develop best practices. We are then, in turn, able to share that knowledge with others.
Vaisala also delivers a number of seminars and workshops, where support for developing an operational plan can be found. These are available on our website, www.vaisala.com. Outside of Vaisala there are national and regional forums where like-minded individuals share latest thinking in developing road weather operations, for example in North America the Federal Highway Administration holds regular stakeholder meetings and publishes information to the web and in the UK the National Winter Service Research Group focuses on developing best practice for winter road service delivery.
VN: Excellent! Thank you for sharing your time today, and telling us about the important role of weather information in transportation. Any last words about the weather that you'd like to share?
RA: It has been my pleasure, Melanie. Every day brings something new for our team to think about. One thing is for sure though – it doesn't matter how much technology we have in our lives, the weather will continue to surprise and inspire us for years to come.