Weathering the Weather
We all know that weather has a major impact on most highway-related activities, especially the scheduling and conduct of winter maintenance operations. Weather conditions such as wind, rain, thunderstorms, dust storms, and unusual temperatures also impact operations. Having and utilizing good weather forecast information is vitally important to the efficient and effective conduct of our business.
There are a variety of sources for weather forecast data. In rough order from lesser to greater reliability, these include:
- National Weather Service
- Radio and television outlets
- Web-based outlets
- Data Delivery outlets (web, fax and telephone)
- Private forecasters
- Maintenance Decision Support Systems (MDSS)
Newspapers can only provide longer term forecasting. They may acquire the data directly from the National Weather Service, or from a private forecaster that acquires data in turn from the National Weather Service. The longer range nature of newspaper weather information usually makes it the least accurate.
Radio and Television outlets can provide more accurate short term forecasts than those provided by newspapers. Many television stations have in-house meteorologists that can sometimes, but not always, provide an extra measure of forecast accuracy.
There are any number of Webbased outlets which provide local weather information. Most offer local forecasts and near real-time radar and satellite image products. These data require interpretation by the viewer. A few free web-based outlets are:
Data delivery outlets transmit all of the weather data via satellite to a terminal in the user’s facility. The major advantage to this is that it will probably be available in the event of a power outage as long as the facility has back-up power generation capability.
Private forecasters can deliver customized forecasts to an agency. The trick here is to specify exactly what type of forecast is desired and how and when it is to be delivered. If a private forecaster is based in your local area, they may be able to pick up some of the nuances in local weather patterns.
The most recent weather forecast option is called a Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS). There are currently two vendors supplying this product:
An MDSS gathers data from all available sources and puts it into a “one-stop-shopping” package that can provide easy-to-manipulate products and accurate forecasts, particularly if there are additional local sources of weather data available. There are also winter maintenance recommendations keyed to the FHWA Manual of Practice for Anti- Icing Operations. Treatment recommendations may be customizable to the client agency’s maintenance guidelines.
A number of state and local highway agencies are currently using MDSS. It is commercially available, but is relatively expensive. To spread out the costs, a group of local agencies might consider pooling their funds and data input resources.
By utilizing some combination of the available options for receiving accurate and timely weather forecasts, your agency can be better prepared to handle whatever mother nature dishes out.