Watching the white stuff
Last winter, the St. Charles, Ill., Public Works Department added one more tool to its arsenal to combat winter storms. Complementing snow plows and salt spreaders, public works managers used a road weather information system, custom weather reports and direct access to meteorologists to keep the roads clear of snow and ice.
Located 35 miles west of downtown Chicago, St. Charles is home to more than 32,000 people and 184 miles of roads. St. Charles Public Works Department managers are always looking for new tools to augment the city’s snow removal program.
In December 2009, the department contracted with Omaha, Neb-based Telvent DTN to use its MxVision WeatherSentry Online Transportation Edition service. The online, subscription-based system gives the department access to real-time pavement temperatures and licensed consulting meteorologists so they can make decisions about when and where to deploy plows or other road equipment. In addition, the department can view hourly forecasts to track and prepare for severe weather that is anywhere from three hours to three days away. Department managers also receive weather alerts on their mobile phones to notify them when severe weather is approaching the area.
Now, public works managers and plow truck drivers monitor weather conditions through an online dashboard, where they can see when freezing rain or snow will start and stop. Before implementing the new weather system, the city had relied on hand-held pavement temperature sensors. The new system’s permanent sensors send temperature information directly to the online dashboard, so managers can adjust chemical application rates depending on road pavement temperatures. Hourly pavement frost and ice forecasts include Federal Highway Administration recommendations for treatment applications.
An online consulting forum is displayed on a weather briefing page within the system to allow users to ask meteorologists specific questions and receive answers within 15 minutes. “What I was really attracted to at first was the online consulting section,” says Peter Suhr, public services manager for the Public Works Department. “Many of our neighboring communities utilize it. So, most often, my questions are answered already when I check first thing in the morning. The information I’m searching for is already right in front of me.”
Project: Weather and pavement forecasts for snow control
Jurisdiction: St. Charles, Ill.
Agency: Public Works Department
Vendor: Omaha, Neb.-based Telvent DTN
Date implemented: December 2009