April 21, 2011

The recently-completed national road weather station network has received the 3M Traffic Safety Innovation Award for 2011 from the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) Transportation Group.

A uniquely Kiwi mix of state-of-the-art automatic weather stations, thermal mapping technology, weather forecasting science and road-side engineering – all presented through a custom-made web interface – is helping to reduce ice and keep New Zealand roads open and safe during winter.

Over the past three years MetService and the NZ Transport Agency  (NZTA) have partnered together on an initial Central Plateau trial (itself the winner of a Road Safety Trust Road Safety Innovation and Achievement Award in 2008),then the roll-out of over 40 road weather stations throughout New Zealand.

Completed in November 2010, this nationwide road weather network has been recognised as the outstanding example of road safety innovation in New Zealand at the IPENZ Transportation Group’s 2011 annual conference.

NZTA Project Manager Malcolme Flattery said, “We are thrilled at this recognition of the innovation and leading-edge technology that has resulted from our collaboration with MetService. We were confident early on that this program was not only going to deliver great safety rewards to New Zealanders; it was also going to give us a world-class set of tools for maintaining our roads more efficiently and effectively.”

Freezing conditions can strike the country’s roads any time between April and November.  Before the installation of the new road weather network, decisions to close roads relied heavily on ad-hoc observations and experience. NZTA recognised the need to improve things, and researched the latest technologies used in Northern Hemisphere countries with known road-ice issues.

MetService’s NZ Commercial Manager Peter Hollingsworth and Key Account Manager Peter Fisher attributed the success of the project to the close working relationship between NZTA and MetService, which meant the two organisations were able to harness their complementary specialisations and knowledge of New Zealand’s winter weather conditions to best effect.

“NZTA discussed their thinking with us very early on,” said Fisher.

“Once we knew we wanted to get a pilot up and running, we were able to bring our international partner Vaisala into the picture straight away for the thermal mapping work, while MetService’s own systems engineers designed and built each weather station to very high international standards. MetService’s ability to take leading-edge technology and modify it to suit New Zealand’s unique conditions meant we were able to customise the whole solution, right through to building the web interface and training NZTA staff and contractors how to use it.”

Each road weather station delivers real-time weather and road surface state information over a cellular network. The location of the road weather stations was carefully calculated following a detailed thermal profiling exercise carried out by Vaisala, an international company specialising in meteorological sensing.  The thermal profiling of the roads provides a ‘thermal fingerprint’ of the State Highway network, clearly pinpointing differential warm and cool points on the road.

For each road weather observation location, MetService generates hourly site-specific forecasts, extending some three days into the future.  These forecasts, along with the road weather station observations, are sent to Vaisala (in Birmingham, UK) where both sets of data are incorporated into thermal profiles for the area and output as thermal forecast maps on a customised  web interface – clearly showing road contractors which parts of their networks are likely to freeze.

This allows road contracting teams to determine precisely where and when grit or more expensive but more efficient ice inhibitors should be applied to the road, helping to minimise waste and increase road maintenance efficiency. In addition, alerts for key weather conditions can be generated and delivered to nominated SMS or email addresses. Historical road information data is also available.

While the primary use of the road weather stations is to aid winter road maintenance, additional uses are still being found – such as monitoring gusts in windy locations and mid-summer heat that melts road surfaces in others, and being able to transmit updates on weather conditions to large roadside screens in affected areas.

Flattery added, “All this is good news for motorists. Extreme weather can still close roads in New Zealand, but these situations should become less common.  Early warnings mean unwary motorists are less likely to be caught in long traffic queues, and the new road weather tools mean those responsible for road maintenance can work more efficiently and effectively – resulting in safer roads for all road users.”

For further information please contact:
Peter Fisher,  Key Account Manager, MetService 04 477 0500, 027 563 8626

(C) Copyright Meteorological Service of New Zealand Ltd 2011

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