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Results from Columbus, OH: More efficient winter maintenance with localized weather data

5.31.2024//Client Stories, Wx Horizon, Road weather

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Thermal profiling and salt sensors help the city of Columbus optimize winter maintenance.

Eric Faulkner

Meteorologist & Sales Manager, Wx Horizon

"I'm not sure how to justify the investment.." --

Last year the city of Columbus, Ohio, launched a pilot project with Vaisala Xweather to transform their winter road maintenance practices using local road weather data via Wx Horizon platform. In Spring 2023 the city installed 20 Vaisala Cast sensors across their road network. After testing the solution and evaluating the results of the project, Columbus decided to continue with the Wx Horizon subscription to optimize their winter maintenance planning. 


Snow and ice control for almost 5,000 lane miles 

Columbus is responsible for snow and ice control on more than 4,700 lane miles of city roadways, with a service area of over 226 square miles. 

The storms in Columbus tend to come with different types of precipitation in different parts of the city, which means that the maintenance response must be tailored to different locations across the city. This calls for accurate weather data to ensure a consistently good level of service and continuous safety for road users, without overwhelming the staff. 

“Applying for the Wx Horizon research initiative was an easy decision for us as it provided an opportunity to "real world" test this new winter road maintenance solution to see how we might best use it.”

–Scott Tourville, Columbus Division of Infrastructure Management

Maximizing the benefits of IoT road weather sensors

Low-cost yet reliable IoT sensors and subscription services have made it easier to access observation and forecast data for road networks. For the Columbus pilot project, Vaisala’s TempCast and GroundCast sensors were combined with the Wx Horizon data platform to provide hyper-local forecasts and insight into current conditions on the city’s roadways. 

Columbus designed the network of 20 sensors together with the Wx Horizon product team, choosing locations around the city that would maximize the insight they gain from the data. For the GroundCast sensors that were installed inside the pavement, they paid attention to selecting a roadway that wasn’t expected to be resurfaced soon. Some of the TempCast sensors were co-located with GroundCast sensors to help Wx Horizon ensure the measurements were equally accurate.  

The results 

The goal of the pilot was for Columbus to explore how they could use the real-time and forecast data operationally to address winter maintenance challenges. Vaisala Xweather’s role was to analyze the road data on the Columbus network to determine the optimal distance between sensors based on differences in sensor measurements across the network. 

1. Temperature variability across the network 

Using the sensor data, Wx Horizon builds a crude “thermal profile” of the city. This allows Columbus to see their typical warmer and colder spots across the network and helps them target the right areas with winter maintenance.  

Columbus uses both real-time data and forecasts. Thanks to forecasts, they can now plan ahead, determining how cold road temperatures would get and how severe the winter events would be.  

  • Snow forecasts help the city to determine if they need plows on standby  

  • Road temperature forecasts and data help the city to determine what type of treatment material to use 

The total number of hours of observed below freezing road temperature conditions at all the Cast sensors in the Columbus network, during the 6 months from October 1st, 2024 to April 1st, 2024.

2. Salt sensing 

Columbus uses the Vaisala GroundCast sensor to detect the amount of salt on the roads. The data is automatically integrated into the road weather forecast.  When chasing the tail, this helps to estimate if and when they need to re-treat roadways.

Wx Horizon also allows the city to access historical data, so they can review which roads were salted, when, and how much. This information can be used for improving road safety or reporting on salt use in different parts of the city. 

3. Insight on dry and wet pavement areas 

The data collected by the Vaisala sensors showed variability in dry/not dry across the road network. Columbus can use this information to understand where roads may remain wet for longer, posing increased freezing risks with colder temperatures. This enables the city to prioritize sections of the road network that require urgent treatment based on the data.

4. Forecast improvements 

Wx Horizon uses sensor data to train its road weather model and produce enhanced, highly localized forecasts. In the example below, you can see how the observations from the Cast sensors helped to improve the accuracy of the road temperature forecasts. 

The pilot project succeeded in providing the city of Columbus with more accurate and localized forecasts ahead of and during winter weather events. This allowed them to plan and run their winter maintenance operations more efficiently. They have decided to continue with the program for future winter seasons. 

 

Want to replicate these benefits in your own city? Contact us to find out how Wx Horizon can help you improve efficiency and safety. 

 

[Contact form/link to contact page] 

Eric Faulkner

Meteorologist & Sales Manager, Wx Horizon

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