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Press Release: Highways

Road Weather Information Systems Aiding Winter Decisions

Sun, Nov, 15th, 2015

The days of winter decision makers sticking a finger out the window to try and decide what the weather is going to do may be long gone but the constant threat of litigation and restricted resources are increasing the pressure on local authority personnel.  This is particularly the case over recent winter seasons where the mild winter weather has made winter decision making harder.  

Cold winters with long periods of freezing weather, although challenging, are easier to manage decision wise than milder periods because when the temperature falls below 4 degrees centigrade the network has to be treated in order to reduce the risk of ice forming and an accident occurring.  With the cost of salt and de-icing solutions ever increasing, while budgets decrease, savings by not treating can be significant.

Thankfully now, winter decision makers have the luxury of sophisticated weather monitoring equipment, online data Bureau Services, such as Findlay Irvine’s ICELERT, and ever improving forecasting services to help make decisions.  These systems are known as Road Weather Information Systems (RWIS) and are in operation around the UK with the majority of Local Authorities having them operational including the Highways Agency who currently operates their system.

RWIS’s have been available in the UK for over 40 years with the first ICELERT weather station installed in 1968 in Liverpool by Scottish Engineering firm Findlay Irvine Ltd.  Advancements in technology have inevitably made systems essential in the modern age and a number of suppliers service the market in the UK offering functionally similar advanced systems.  A RWIS today consists of three main parts weather stations, online data management bureau service and weather forecasts (which are generally provided by one of three weather forecasters and procured separately).

Generally Local Authorities will procure one specialist to supply both the weather station services including hardware and maintenance as well as a Bureau service to display and manage the data.   

A weather station can contain any number of different types of sensors that can be utilised depending on the demands of the microclimate where that station is to be situated.  A standard forecast type weather station will consist of a data logger, Air Temperature & Relative Humidity Sensor, Precipitation Sensor, Wind Speed & Direction Sensor, Two Deep Temperature Sensor and a Surface Sensor measuring Surface Temperature, Surface State (ie Ice, Wet, Dry) and Salt present.  A local authority network can have any number of weather stations depending on the number of microclimates, cost, size and needs.  Now, Weather Stations from different manufacturers can be integrated into the same RWIS thanks to open source protocols which offers Local Authorities the opportunity to acquire best value for money when replacing hardware and tendering for their RWIS. 

Any RWIS is only as good as the quality of the data that the sensors collect; this is why it is essential to ensure that all weather stations on your network are serviced, maintained and calibrated regularly.  The current standard in the UK for maintenance and calibration of weather stations is for two per year; Pre-Winter & Mid-Winter.

The data logger or weather station polls the sensors in order to take readings and communicates the data back to a centralised Bureau at regular intervals via a communication protocol such as Landlines, GPRS, ISDN or 3G.  The data protocols used by suppliers are generally open source however it is very important to ensure that they this can be accessed by others in order to secure the best value for money through a regular open and fair tendering process.  

The Bureau is hosted on a bank of servers and all data from the weather stations is gathered at a centralised point where it is processed, checked for faulty readings from sensors and displayed.  A secure entry point from any internet enabled device allows users to access the Bureau where the data can be viewed in tabular or graphical form, compared with weather forecasts, reports can be generated for trend analysis, camera images can be viewed and historic data accessed.

The Bureau allows winter decision makers to see the latest actual weather across their network and make informed decisions.  Most systems will also offer a decision management system where actions can be recorded and disseminated to key personnel via SMS or E-mail as well as to the public through pre-programmed messages via Twitter.  This allows a fully auditable trail of information from weather forecasts, actual data, actions and camera images to be recalled with ease should the worst happen and litigation ensues.