Sending the Right Message During Winter Road Conditions

Making informed travel decisions when the weather makes the roads treacherous can be difficult if you’re not sure whose advice to trust. Luckily, some states have Pathfinder to help travelers understand the weather situation.

Pathfinder is a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Road Weather Management program that brings together state departments of transportation, the National Weather Service (NWS) and private weather providers to help create consistent messaging to the traveling public during adverse weather events. DTN works with several state DOTs participating in the program to help them make confident decisions about communicating adverse road conditions.

How MNDOT Prepares for a Storm

See DTN help MnDOT crews prepare for winter storms with Pathfinder

While not all states that participate in the Pathfinder program have the same guidelines and expectations, there are similarities between the states. Each state has some kind of messaging client that is used to facilitate conversation between all of the involved parties. When a major weather event is forecast, a conference call is set up between the state, the NWS and private weather provider. For DTN customers these calls typically begin with a weather forecast from the NWS followed by a pavement forecast from DTN. After the forecasts are disseminated and any questions are answered, the state discusses how they want to create messaging to help guide travel behavior before, during and after the storm.  Depending on the state and its assets, messaging can range from simple press releases and social media campaigns to displaying severe weather messaging on dynamic messaging signs across the state.


Pathfinder challenges

Each state that participates in the Pathfinder program has to overcome challenges inherent to changing weather conditions.  For example, a high degree of uncertainty in the forecast and how it will impact travel can make it difficult to come to a unified message. Likewise, if the forecast changes during an event, notifying the public could be a challenge, especially if the impacted state does not have a 24/7 traffic operations center. Another challenge is simply what qualifies as a Pathfinder event. A six-inch snowstorm with no wind may not be as impactful as two inches of snow with blizzard conditions. While each state has a set of guidelines as to what is considered a Pathfinder-worthy event, it is often the marginal weather events that cause the most headaches.  Hyperlocal road forecasting and meteorological expertise supports DOTs in making the right call.


Pathfinder success

The collaboration between the entities involved in Pathfinder has been positive for both the states and the travelers who pass through them. The program creates a consistent message from the agencies committed to keeping roadways safe and builds trust and reliability within the traveling public.

Learn more about how DTN helps transportation agencies improve safety and plan for all types of weather with our Transportation solutions.