Accurate weather information helps Iowa DOT snowfighters keep roads safer

Snow totalsThere is no shortage of information available for today’s snowfighters. Since we all know the weather in Storm Lake can be very different from the conditions in Burlington, accurate local weather data is one of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s most valuable tools when winter rolls in. The Iowa DOT uses a contractor to provide in-depth information that helps our field staff make more informed decisions regarding winter maintenance of the state’s roads. The vendor supplies us with current atmospheric conditions and accurate forecasts in an easy-to-use, Web-based format.


Burlington forecast
Burlington forecast for 11-20 as of 7:30 a.m. 11-19
Storm lake forecast
Storm Lake forecast for 11-20 as of 7:30 a.m. 11-1

In addition to hour-by-hour atmospheric information like temperature, dew point, wind speed and direction, and precipitation chance and type, the service also gives authorized Iowa DOT users a heads up on possible treatment recommendations based on our standard winter maintenance practices.

Weather mapTina Greenfield, from the Office of Maintenance, said, “Everyone has information overload, especially during a winter storm. Sorting out what’s critical from all the other routine information is tough. The treatment recommendations that come from the weather service serve as an alert. When a user looks at the information from one of our more than 100 reporting sites, they can see at a glance if they need to take a closer look at what’s happening.”

Alerts are a key function of the weather system. Greenfield said, “Each employee using the weather system can set up alerts that make sense for a specific location or storm. Early in the season, that might include an alert for observed frost on a road or bridge. The user just has to set the road weather information system station to alert them when there is a specific difference in bridge temperature and dew point. Another alert that might be useful is a cold pavement alert when there is also rain in the forecast.  Rain can be a big deal if the pavements are cold, so coupling this information could be very useful.”

Another useful tool is an on-call meteorologist 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Greenfield said,  “Sometimes the weather information can get confusing. It’s a great resource to have someone on call to answer weather questions. When we’re planning for a larger storm, the contractor will also provide weather briefings for groups of people involved in planning the storm treatment options.”

In addition to the information Iowa DOT users saw last year, there are a few new things built into the system this season. Greenfield says the contract calls for geographic information system layers to be available to incorporate into other interfaces. She said, “So far we’re looking at putting radar and storm path layers on our internal plow tracking system.”

Blowing snow 3-3 p,Greenfield continued, “The more information we have, the better we can serve our customers. But there is a fine line between having enough information and information overload. With the options built into the weather forecasting system, our DOT employees can customize each account to provide the level of detail that meets the needs of a specific person.”

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