Successful winter road maintenance strategies

Winter road maintenance
Rachel Adams
Rachel Adams
Head of Winter Maintenance, Digital Services
Published: Aug 23, 2021
Ground Transportation
Weather & Environment

Road weather technology is critical for winter and summer road maintenance as well as the automotive industry since effective operations can all be affected by weather. Regardless of the application, accurate data regarding road surface and weather conditions, from snow and ice to wind, sandstorms, or flooding, empowers ground transportation decision making with crucial information.

Vaisala’s road weather systems, sensors, and solutions monitor roadways for specific weather parameters so that road agencies can act effectively or warn travelers. With Vaisala’s road weather technology, all road maintenance decisions are based on accurate and reliable measurement data, which improves safety and operational efficiency.

Striving to maintain safety on roads

Every winter road maintenance organization strives to maintain safety, meet levels of service, and conserve resources. Different organizations use different strategies to meet these goals, from forecast-based to observation-driven and operational approaches. What’s the best approach for winter maintenance strategy?

There are hundreds if not thousands of road agencies around the world, and they all have the ultimate goal of people travelling safely. We are in the privileged position of working with many of these agencies and have the opportunity to consider the different approaches that are being implemented to tackle weather impacts on roads. 

1) Forecast approach

We know that some agencies simply rely on weather forecasts to guide decision making – what is happening in the future. It makes sense as knowing the type of weather impact in advance enables adequate time to mobilize appropriate resources to the regions that need intervention. 

In a recent poll of North America municipal road agencies, 50% were utilizing forecasting in road weather decision making. When thinking about the forecast, it’s important to consider the data source, and understand what type of information it provides. Think about the validity of the data for the road application – is it focused on atmospheric information or does it deliver road level information. It’s one thing to know it will snow. But will it settle, are the surfaces already frozen, are winds likely to result in blowing snow? What will the impact be on the road surface? After all, what matters most is to know if tires will stay on the road.

2) Observation approach

Many road agencies use observations to determine real-time situational awareness. In the same poll mentioned previously, 60% of road agencies use observations in their approach to decision making.  Situational awareness is particularly valuable where mobilization times are shorter, decision makers may be alerted in response to parameter trends or thresholds met that trigger a call to action. In some cases, where the sensing equipment is installed to the treatment vehicles, instantaneous application of anti-icing materials is possible, in response to road data measurements received to the in-cab display. During winter storm management, these mobile sensors are particularly valuable, indicating in real time how conditions are changing across the network. 

By their nature, mobile sensors deliver value when they are moving around the network. In the event where conditions deteriorate and roads may become temporarily closed due to adverse weather conditions, observations from fixed sensing equipment become vital to deliver real-time reference data to decision makers. 

In addition to delivering data to support operational practice, since observations deliver ground truth they are also important in validating forecast information, informing on efficacy of treatment actions, and serve as a robust benchmark to evaluate operational performance. 

3) Operational approach

Used in isolation, both forecast and observation-led strategies have their strengths, and indeed their weaknesses. Is there a benefit then to take an operational approach? Not only does this bring together forecasting and observation data, but in fact such an approach takes advantage of both data sets in combination to drive advanced models that deliver a network-wide holistic approach, providing weather intelligence in the immediate and longer time period. Today, technology and computational power is leading innovation to make this a reality. 

Looking to the future

The shift from brain power to compute power is increasing clock speed and as a result, road agencies are starting to benefit from more harmonized approaches to decision making by removing the natural risk bias from human-led decision making. This reduces the amount of time and effort in operational management and ensures consistency in service levels whilst managing cost and environmental impact.  We are really excited to be part of this transformation. If you would like to learn more and help drive our development forward take a look at our on-demand webinar online.

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