In this article, Roadway and Municipal Expert, Richard M. Balgowan, P.E., P.P., CPWM, CPM, discusses some of the challenges in managing roadways for winter safety in a brief article that was featured in TR News in 2009.

Getting the Most out of Winter Weather Forecasting Services

Forecasting services have improved their ability to meet the needs of winter operations managers for accurate, timely forecasts of the weather on the mesoscale and microscale levels and for forecasts of the pavement temperature and condition. Winter operations managers need to know what will happen when precipitation hits the pavement. Will the pavement be warm enough to melt any accumulating snow? Will the pavement be so cold that rain will freeze to the surface on contact? Are conditions right for frost to form on bridge decks?

These types of forecasts formerly were not possible—the technology was not in place or did not yet exist. Today, automated weather stations across the United States collect realtime information on pavement, subsurface, and bridge deck temperatures. Forecasting services can access these systems to develop predictions that are usable by the agencies involved in snow and ice control.

Hamilton Township, New Jersey, has used a weather forecasting service for many years. Before the winter of 2004–2005, the service did not offer pavement temperature forecasts or immediate access to a forecaster for consultations on approaching storms and on weather reports. Hamilton Township rewrote its weather service specifications to require more information—pavement temperature forecasts, starting and ending times of precipitation and frozen precipitation, precipitation intensity, and other vital information. The township also sought unlimited 24-hours-a-day,7-days-a-week access to a forecaster.

The results of this enhanced weather forecasting service have been significant. Overtime hours and chemical use were cut drastically. Previously, if a weather forecast called for snow to start at 4:00 a.m., crews would be mobilized 1 to 2 hours earlier. Often the snow would melt on contact with the pavement; sometimes the melting would continue for the duration of the storm. Without forecasts of pavement temperature, the township’s decision makers had no way of knowing if pavement temperatures would stay above or drop below freezing.

With the new forecasting specifications, Hamilton Township can mobilize forces on the basis of what is expected to happen when the precipitation hits the pavement. In many storms during the past few years, personnel and equipment were not mobilized or were mobilized later, because the precipitation was forecast with a reasonable degree of certainty to melt on contact with the pavement.

For Hamilton Township, a good weather forecasting service—one that provides relatively accurate pavement temperature forecasts and unlimited access to weather forecasters for consultation—has proved the single most valuable decision making tool for snow and ice control managers.


Featured Expert

Richard Balgowan, P.E., P.P., CPWM, CPM, PWLF

Richard is an expert in Highway and Municipal Engineering with more than 35 years of experience working with State DOTs and municipalities. In addition to his expertise in highway and municipal infrastructure design, construction, operations and maintenance, his experience has developed a unique expertise in snow and ice control. Rich is a licensed Professional Engineer, Certified Public Works Manager, and Certified Public Manager.