Accurate Weather Forecasts Lead to Less Costly, More Efficient Snow and Ice Removal

It’s no secret that snow, slush, sleet and ice can wreak havoc on roads, often creating nightmare traffic conditions. But more than a mere nuisance, adverse weather can be tied to measurable human and economic losses.

Each year, bad roads cause, on average:

  • 500 million vehicle-hours of delays
  • 1,921 deaths
  • 146,647 injuries
  • $3 billion in lost productivity

Working to keep roads open and safe comes at considerable expense. Each year, $2.3 billion is spent fighting snow and ice that accumulates on roads, comprising approximately 20 percent of city, county, and state annual maintenance budgets.

The challenge for transportation departments is to maximize the effectiveness of road chemicals while minimizing financial and environmental costs. Accurate weather information can help achieve this objective, providing the basis for technology-driven support systems that provide detailed recommendations for the administration of road chemicals.

Maintenance managers must consider many factors when determining how to best respond to threatening winter weather conditions. Several of these factors are directly affected by current weather conditions and weather forecasts. These include identifying which roads to treat, when to apply chemicals, what type of chemical to apply and what chemical application rate to use. While not directly related to weather, managers must also take into consideration the cost of the chemicals, fuel, and labor, as well as the environmental impact the chemicals have on the surrounding environment.

yellow salt truck dumping salt in street

The tool used by the transportation industry to make the best decisions is known as a Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS). An MDSS integrates road and weather data, maintenance practices, and resource data to guide treatment strategies based on available resources and best practices. The more accurate the weather information that feeds an MDSS, the more effective it can be.

Today’s advanced capabilities in forecasting — both in ever-improving prediction accuracy for temperatures and precipitation as well as the ability to localize forecasts down to one-mile or one-kilometer segments — create significant value for transportation departments. Additionally, companies like DTN also run a road pavement model, which estimates the temperature of the roads based upon weather forecasts, known information about road surfaces and actual surface pavement measurements. A road pavement model provides better road forecasts, ultimately leading to benefits such as faster time to bare pavement, reduced crash risks, reduced delays and improved productivity for the commercial freight and the traveling public.

So the next time you find yourself driving on roads that seem amazing clear in the midst of a snowstorm, you have your transportation department—and a meteorologist or two—to thank.