The Christmas holidays, which are just around the corner, involve a lot of road travel for many people. However, in countries in the northern hemisphere, these journeys can be influenced by winter weather conditions. That’s why consulting road weather information is a recommended practice.
According to a 2013 survey by Bridgestone, nearly 60% of people make it a routine to check the weather forecast before getting in the car. However, during the winter months, the percentage of drivers who consult the weather forecast increases to 92%.
Nevertheless, we must not forget that winter weather can be very treacherous. Sudden changes in weather conditions can alter the state of the roads. Therefore, having real-time road weather information can become a crucial aspect. In fact, it can make the difference between enjoying a trouble-free trip or experiencing a nightmare on wheels
So, how does meteorology influence road safety?
If you drive regularly, you know that adverse weather conditions can lead to unpleasant surprises. Here’s a summary of how some common weather phenomena or situations can catch you off guard:
- Wind: Driving in strong crosswinds can be challenging and may require a firm grip on the steering wheel. Reduce your speed and stay alert for any debris on the road.
- Ice: Icy road surfaces dramatically increase braking distance. It is crucial to limit your speed and exercise caution. The DGT (General Directorate of Traffic) advises not to exceed 28 km/h on icy roads.
- Rain: Rain reduces visibility and can create slippery road conditions, especially when mixed with accumulated dust. Reduce your speed and increase the following distance to ensure safety.
- Snow: Freshly fallen snow can be similar to rain, but when it freezes or hardens, driving on it becomes akin to driving on ice. Exercise caution and adjust your driving accordingly.
- Fog: Fog reduces visibility, decreases tire traction, and can lead to visual perception errors. Use fog lights when necessary and drive with extra caution.
- High temperatures: Driving in high temperatures can affect both the vehicle and the occupants. Increased temperatures can lead to fatigue and reduced reaction times. Stay hydrated and take breaks when needed.
Even seemingly innocent road conditions, such as roads covered in leaves, can pose hazards. Leaves, like rain or ice, reduce tire grip and increase braking distance.
Solutions for gathering road weather information
As you can see, adjusting speed to visibility or increasing the following distance is essential to avoid problems while driving. Implementing these tips is straightforward when adverse weather conditions that hinder driving are easily recognized. However, real-time road weather information also contributes to increased safety in these cases. Current technologies can notify drivers when visibility drops below acceptable levels or when precipitation levels may pose a danger (1).
However, road weather information systems become particularly useful when it is challenging to detect road surface conditions, as noted by Rämä Pirkko (2). A clear example would be the presence of black ice. This phenomenon can occur at temperatures below or near freezing, and it commonly forms on bridges, which are more exposed to adverse weather conditions.
How can these hazardous areas be identified? One of the main solutions for gathering road weather information is through road weather information systems.
Road weather information systems, aiding driving
Devices that collect weather data and record pavement conditions are a cornerstone of advanced traffic management systems (ATMS).
Also known as RWIS (road weather information system), these solutions combine various technologies to collect, transmit, model, and disseminate weather conditions and information about road conditions. Depending on the area, the following can be combined, for example:
- Automatic weather stations, responsible for monitoring key environmental parameters (temperature, wind, precipitation, etc.);
- Sensors to determine pavement temperature and pavement condition (dry, wet, snowy, etc.);
- Flood alert sensors, which can also disseminate information through social networks (3); or
- Cameras that provide visual inspection from the control center.
All these devices, when properly calibrated and maintained (a task also carried out by Arantec), not only contribute to safer driving but also provide short-term weather forecasts when analyzed alongside data from meteorological agencies. These forecasts help improve team coordination and reduce the amount of salt, sand, and chemicals used in road maintenance, leading to greater sustainability and lower costs.
3 examples of using a road weather information system
One of the best ways to demonstrate the usefulness of these solutions is by observing how they are being used in other countries.
Alaska, for example, epitomizes the harshness of winter weather. In 2018, the state had 63 road weather information systems in place. This network is complemented by sensors placed on the maintenance vehicles themselves, providing hyperlocal and mobile data.
Analyzing this information enables them to obtain weather forecasts up to 3 days in advance, updated on an hourly basis. This optimization of chemical usage in road maintenance helps save money.
Estonia is another interesting example (4). Although the weather station data is not used for weather forecasting, the system stands out for its intensive use of cameras, configured to update every 10 minutes. By early 2017, they had installed 112 devices, and they continue to add another 10 to 15 units each year.
The state of New Mexico in the United States is another representative example (5). In this case, road weather information systems are used to monitor visibility conditions in an area prone to violent dust storms. It is an example of the great adaptability of these solutions, which are commonly associated with winter climates.
Weather data for Spanish roads
In Spain, although some autonomous communities have their own meteorological information services, the main reference is AEMET (State Meteorological Agency). Their network of weather stations allows for displaying weather data on dynamic information panels on major roads. Weather data and forecasts are also shared through social media and the news media.
Similarly, they have a website called ‘MeteoRuta’, where you can check the weather for a road trip between two points. The displayed weather information is nearly real-time, and you can also view a 24-hour forecast.
Meteorological science has made significant advancements in recent years. However, when it comes to driving, the hyperlocal component can be crucial. The services provided by automatic weather stations and additional sensors, therefore, become particularly relevant. They not only provide greater safety for road users but also help improve coordination among maintenance teams. And yes, they also save money and reduce the environmental impact of excessive use of salt or sand to maintain the roads during winter. Do you need any more reasons to consider these types of devices?
And, by the way, we almost forgot, Merry Christmas!
- (1) Peng Y, Jiang Y, Lu J, Zou Y (2018) Examining the effect of adverse weather on road transportation using weather and traffic sensors. PLOS ONE 13(10): e0205409. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0205409
- (2) Rämä, Pirkko. Effects of weather-controlled variable message signing on driver behaviour. Espoo 2001. Technical Research Centre of Finland, VTT Publications 447. 55 p. + app. 50 p. Disponible en http://lib.tkk.fi/Diss/2001/isbn9513858723/isbn9513858723.pdf
- (3) Abana, E., Dayag, C., Valencia, V., Talosig, P., Ratilla, J., & Galat, G. (2019). Road flood warning system with information dissemination via social media. International Journal Of Electrical And Computer Engineering (IJECE), 9(6), 4979. https://doi.org/10.11591/ijece.v9i6.pp4979-4987
- (4) PIARC – World Road Association (2019). The Snow and Ice Data Book 2018. SIDB 2018EN. Disponible en https://www.piarc.org/en/order-library/30797-en-The%20Snow%20and%20Ice%20Data%20Book%202018.htm
- (5) Gill, T., Dubois, D., Eibedingil, I., Fuentes, J., Jin, L., Li, J., Mendez, M., Tatarko, J., Van Pelt, R.S., Webb, N. (2019) Assessing the acute safety hazard to highway transportation from blowing dust at Lordsburg Playa, New Mexico. Transportation, Air Quality and Health Symposium. Austin, Texas, February, 18-20, 2019. Disponible en https://static.tti.tamu.edu/conferences/carteeh19/presentations/breakout-h/gill.pdf