4 Evaluation and Recommendations

4.1 Introduction

The operational evaluation of the prototype WRS was intended to observe various MoDOT users interacting with the system during specific weather events in the Kansas City region. Unfortunately, a very mild winter covering the assessment period meant there were very few events of the types desired.

Instead, toward the end of the evaluation period, the various MoDOT personnel participated in an assessment exercise. Scenarios representing various types of weather event were presented to the users, and their anticipated responses were discussed. In turn, these were used to identify additional features of the WRS that could support or assist in their operational response to the weather event. The recommended additional WRS features are discussed in the following section.

The weather scenarios used in this exercise were based on information prepared for the National Highway Institute (NHI) course number 137030, "Principles and Tools for Road Weather Management," and the contribution of this material to the WRS project is hereby acknowledged. The assessment exercise focused on the following weather events:

The MoDOT participants in the assessment exercise represented the following organizational areas of responsibility:

Their recommendations for changes and enhancements to the prototype WRS are described in section 4.3.

4.2 Available Tools in WRS by Organizational Areas of Responsibility

4.2.1 Transportation Management Centers

TMC personnel tend to look at weather from a broad viewpoint. They need to know that weather events might occur for staffing purposes (winter weather) and to help predict its impact on vehicles (speed, volume, occupancy, incidents). The TMC's primary weather consideration is precipitation in its varying forms.
The tools available in WRS that best meet the needs of the TMC include the following:

4.2.2 Traffic Operations

Traffic Operations include signals, signage, striping, and lighting. Weather, especially precipitation and wind, is of particular interest to this group since it affects the hazards of dealing with electricity, large materials and equipment, and drying time of paints and adhesives.

The sign department was a strong proponent of using the WRS to determine the wind speed and direction for installing signs. The sign department used the Google map provided in the planner to specify the location for the sign and to provide the information to the installer. Based on the sign department's recommendation, a larger Google map was provided with the ability to place a marker on the map to show the location of the sign. Also based on their recommendation, WRS interfaces were modified to support a low resolution monitor. The enhancements made based on the sign department's recommendations will be used by other departments.

The tools available in WRS that best meet the needs of traffic operations include the following:

4.2.3 Maintenance Operations

Weather hampers the ability of maintenance operations during rain, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and high winds and creates substantial work during winter weather events such as snow, freezing rain, sleet, black ice, and frost.

The tools available in WRS that best meet the needs of maintenance operations include the following:

4.2.4 Construction Operations

Most of the construction in the state of Missouri is handled by contractors. The contractors are responsible for determining if the weather is appropriate using their own resources for the planned activities. MoDOT's inspectors use weather information to verify that the activities being performed by the contractors are in accordance with the policies and procedures specified for each construction activity.

The tools available in WRS that best meet the needs of construction operations include the following:

4.2.5 Customer Service

Customer service receives calls from travelers requesting information on the infrastructure and operations of MoDOT that may be affected by weather and road conditions. In addition, customer service relays weather information to the maintenance, traffic, and construction field personnel.

The tools available in WRS that best meet the needs of customer service include the following:

4.3 Recommended Enhancements to the Prototype WRS

4.3.1 Use of Markers on Expanded Google Maps

Clicking on the "View Large Map" in the Planner module opens an expanded Google map in a separate window. In common with all Google map applications, the user can click on a specific location on the map and add a marker. It was recommended that this application be extended within an enhanced WRS to associate additional information with the marker. This information could include additional details of the location in an address-type format. For example, once a location has been selected for placing a sign and the weather conditions are appropriate for installing the sign according to the Planner (e.g., wind speeds are acceptable), the detailed information in the marker on the Google map would help the installation crew find the precise location for placement and installation of the sign.

4.3.2 Maintain the Selected Map View in the Planner

The Planner module allows the user to manipulate the small map on the page to select a specific geographic view and zoom level. However, if the user exits the planner to access another module of the WRS and then returns to the Planner, the map view has changed back to the default view. Users recommended that a tool be provided in the Planner module that allowed a selected map view to be maintained at the user's selection.

4.3.3 Provide a Regional Kansas City Map View

Users can currently select views of individual states (e.g., Missouri or Kansas) or views of smaller geographic areas (e.g., Kansas City). Selecting the Kansas City map, however, provides a Missouri-centric view of the region (i.e., it covers the whole of Kansas City but with the metropolitan area to the left (west) side of the display and therefore showing a greater portion of Missouri). Users suggested an alternative display that still emphasized the Kansas City region but allowed a greater portion of Kansas to be viewed. This was considered important since the prevailing weather conditions typically move west to east. Therefore, seeing more of Kansas provides additional notice of approaching weather events. This feature could be accomplished in an enhanced WRS through some additional development. However, using the MapShow module in the prototype WRS allows users to select two maps (primary and secondary locations) for display, and could serve as an interim solution to this need.

4.3.4 Display Default Maps for Each Tab

The prototype WRS allows users to select National, State, or Local views of weather maps via tabs. Once the user clicks on a tab, a new page opens from which the user can selected a type of weather map and a location. The new page opens without any map being displayed until the user makes a selection. Users recommended that a default weather map and location should be presented on the page when the user clicks the tab, and from there the user could select an alternative weather map and location using the tools. The purpose of this recommended change was to immediately present a graphic to the user which would draw them in and encourage them to make further selections.

4.3.5 Provide Forecast Pop-Ups

Users recommended that instead of using static graphic images for the State and Local views, users should be able to cursor over the maps and click at specific locations to obtain a pop-up box containing the forecast for that location. Currently, selected NWS products provide this capability for general forecast information. This capability could be integrated with WRS in the future.

4.3.6 Provide Ability to Email or Page a Forecast

Users recommended developing an application that would allow forecasts of selected weather events for specific locations or regions to be emailed or sent by pager from one MoDOT user to another. Receiving users might be either field personnel, or in another office such as the TMC. MoDOT currently has the ability to send emails of weather forecasts using a service provided by their existing commercial weather information provider. It was felt that incorporating this functionality within WRS could lead to cost savings for MoDOT.

4.3.7 Provide Email and Pager Alerts

This is similar to the previous recommendation. However, in this case it was suggested that the WRS should automatically send alerts to MoDOT users in emails or by pager when certain weather parameter thresholds are met or exceeded for selected types of weather events and locations. The types of events, locations, and thresholds should be user-selectable.

4.3.8 Provide long-range general forecasts

The current version of the WRS provides a variety of weather maps with different forecast periods. In the National Weather Maps module these range from current conditions to three-day forecasts; in the State Weather Maps module they range from current conditions to 24-hour forecasts; and in the Local Weather Maps module they range from current conditions to 12-hour forecasts. Users recommended that additional longer-range general forecasts be provided through WRS. It was recommended that these cover a period of 7 to 10 days. This was seen as particularly valuable for planning and scheduling maintenance activities and resources, as well as preparing for major weather events in all MoDOT organizational areas. There are a variety of existing NWS text and graphical products that provide long-range general forecasts. These include products that allow users to search by city, state, or zip code and display current conditions and 7-day forecasts, or to make location selections from clickable maps and display 7-day forecasts for a variety of weather types. These products could be integrated into WRS in the future.

4.3.9 Provide longer forecast periods in MapShow

This is similar to the issue described above. The MapShow module uses the same weather maps as the National, State, and Local Weather Map modules these range from current events to 24-hour forecasts, but with most weather maps providing 4 to 6 hour forecasts. The users recommended providing 24- to 48-hour forecasts for most types of weather map.

4.3.10 Provide storm tracking capability

Users recommended that a storm tracking capability be added to the WRS. This would cover various types of storm events, including snowstorms, ice storms, significant rain storms, and thunderstorms. It was suggested that the storm tracking capability should graphically display the forecast progress of the storm, and should provide the ability to determine an estimated time of arrival at user-specified locations. The users felt that this capability would have multiple applications within MoDOT. For example, it would provide benefits in preparing for impending winter storms by allowing maintenance operations to know which roadways would be affected earliest, and to dispatch crews to those locations to apply pre-treatments. The storm tracking capability could also be used for managing field maintenance operations year-round. Crews could be notified of approaching thunderstorms, and with the arrival-time estimates could be advised when to terminate their activities in the field.

4.3.11 Provide information on type of precipitation

The prototype WRS includes a number of weather maps that provide probability of precipitation and precipitation amount in each of the National, State, and Local Weather Maps modules. Users recommended that additional information about the type of precipitation (e.g., rain, freezing rain, sleet, snow) should be provided in both the weather maps and the planner. Users also recommended that the time at which the precipitation is forecast to reach a user-selected location should be added to the weather maps.

4.3.12 Provide information on precipitation rates

The prototype WRS includes weather maps that provide forecast precipitation amounts in the National, State, and Local Weather Maps modules. Users recommended that additional information on precipitation rate should be added. This can be valuable information to maintenance operations personnel. For example, if three inches of rain were forecast to fall in one hour, maintenance personnel would be dispatched to induce drainage along known ponding segments of roadway.

4.3.13 Provide probability of hail

Users recommended adding weather maps that would provide the probability of hail in the region. The NWS Storm Prediction Center provides data on the probability of hail, so potentially weather maps with this information could be added to an enhanced WRS.

4.3.14 Provide lightning information

Users recommended adding lightning information to the weather maps in the State and Local Weather Maps modules, and to the planner. The objective was to see forecasts of probable lightning strike locations and the estimated times at which lightning would reach user-specified locations. This information could be used in maintenance and construction planning prior to dispatching field crews. Information of this type is available through the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network, a commercial lightning detection network operated by the Vaisala Group. There is, therefore, potential to explore the value of this service to MoDOT personnel and integrate it within an enhanced WRS. However, there would then be an associated fee-for-service.

4.3.15 Provide additional dew-point and humidity information

The prototype WRS includes a 3-hour dewpoint temperature map in the State Weather Maps module and a 1-hour dewpoint temperature map in the Local Weather Maps module. Users recommended additional dewpoint and humidity information be added to the enhanced WRS. For example, longer-range dewpoint temperature forecasts and data for user-selectable locations would be valuable. It was also requested that dewpoint temperature be added to the Planner module. MoDOT personnel indicated that this data is important for decisions about bridge painting, for example. Currently, a field representative is sent to the bridge location to take a humidity reading before a final decision is made to start painting on a particular day.

4.3.16 Provide frost information

MoDOT maintenance personnel indicated the importance of accurate information about the location and probability of frost, especially on bridges. Even if current forecast information shows a low probability of frost, MoDOT dispatches maintenance personnel to assess the actual field condition, particularly on bridges that are know to be especially susceptible. More detailed information of this type will likely require data from ESS devices to achieve the accuracy and resolution required by MoDOT, rather than relying on forecast products from the NWS. This option could be explored in the development of an enhanced WRS.

4.3.17 Provide pavement temperatures

Many winter weather treatment strategies used by MoDOT maintenance personnel would benefit from the availability of specific pavement temperature data, either for specific user-selectable locations or for specific roadway segments. More detailed information of this type will likely require data from ESS devices to achieve the accuracy and resolution required by MoDOT, rather than relying on forecast products from the NWS. This option could be explored in the development of an enhanced WRS.

4.3.18 Provide river cresting information

MoDOT maintenance personnel would like information on river cresting and the probability of flooding. However, this information would need to relate to specific highway locations, particularly those susceptible to flooding, standing water, or drainage problems. The NWS currently provides a variety of hydrographic information using data from sensors operated by other agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This information includes both text and graphical products that describe current river levels and associated flood levels. In some instances, forecast probability of flooding is also provided. However, this data relates to specific river locations and is not associated with roadway locations. The use of additional sensors or the extrapolation of the existing sensor data to roadway locations could be explored in the development of an enhanced WRS.

4.3.19 Provide ozone information

The Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) currently provides an ozone alert system for the Kansas City region. MARC provides daily updates, and KC Scout uses notifications of "orange" and "red" days to provide information to drivers via dynamic message signs on the freeways. Maintenance operations personnel indicated the value of this information in their planning and scheduling activities, and the benefit of integrating this information with weather information, especially in the Planner module. For example, this information could be used to defer maintenance activities that would contribute to poor air quality, or to avoid dispatching field crews if air quality is unhealthy.

4.3.20 Provide customizable displays

Users requested that an enhanced WRS contain additional customization features. In particular, it was suggested that each user should be able to create customized views from multiple individual modules (e.g., select a specific location for the Regional Weather Maps, and include specific parameters in the Planner/Graph modules), and relate these to a specific long-term project activity (e.g., "I-35 Overlay" or "Paseo Bridge"). The WRS home page would then include a drop-down menu that would list all of the specific user’s projects. Selecting any particular project from the list would allow each WRS module to open with the user's customized view for the specific project.

4.4 Conclusions

The MoDOT users who participated in the operational assessment exercise identified multiple enhancements that could be made to the WRS. It appears that the users believe that these enhancements would provide value in their respective day-to-day activities in traffic operations, maintenance operations, construction operations, or customer service.

An initial review of the recommendations indicates that many of the suggestions are feasible additions to WRS. It is strongly believed that these could be successfully developed and implemented in a subsequent phase of the WRS project.

4.5 Contractor Recommendations

The FHWA Road Weather Management program has raised the awareness of the needs of the surface transportation community for better, more tailored weather and road condition information. In the past, the primary focus has been on the needs of winter weather response, such as through the MDSS. A newer program, the Clarus National Surface Transportation Weather Observations System, has been developed to collect, quality check, and disseminate environmental and hydrological observations from departments of transportation across North America. Clarus will allow departments of transportation to evaluate changing surface weather conditions from adjacent states to determine its impact on the traveling public, infrastructure, and planned activities.

This project has documented the user needs and has deployed a prototype WRS. It established a foundational understanding of the need for year-round weather information to support DOT operations. A prime example of the need for WRS has been provided by the MoDOT District 4 sign department. Wind is of particular concern when installing signs adjacent to or over roads. The criteria established for sign installation is that wind speeds should be less than five miles per hour. The sign department used the prototype WRS to determine the speed and direction of the wind, and, in turn, was able to determine where signs could be installed safely under current and forecast conditions. The system also allowed them to place larger signs when the wind was slightly greater than five miles per hour but the wind direction would help hold the sign against the support structure during installation. Without the prototype WRS, the sign department would have used generalized weather information to make the decision or they would physically evaluate the wind speed and direction at the installation site, incurring wasted resources when installation was deemed unsafe.

As described in section 4.2, the recommendations submitted by MoDOT for future enhancements of the WRS are all reasonable and feasible. The majority of the weather information and forecasts suggested for inclusion by MoDOT are readily available, although it is likely that some information accessible through the NWS would need to be customized to meet MoDOT's specific requirements, and some data (such as lightning predictions) would need to be purchased for use in an enhanced WRS. As the WRS development contractor, Mixon/Hill recommends that the MoDOT-proposed enhancements be implemented in a future version of the WRS.

Further, Mixon/Hill recommends that an enhanced version of the WRS should be considered with the following additional characteristics:

Departments of transportation face major challenges during the scheduling and execution of activities that are affected by surface weather. Without the proper real-time and forecast weather information and the tools to manipulate that data, the traveling public and DOT personnel are put at risk; material, labor, time, and monetary resources are wasted; public notification of weather and road conditions is delayed; and the information available regarding current field construction and maintenance activities may be inaccurate or out-of-date. An enhanced WRS incorporating the various recommended enhancements will go a long way to addressing these challenges.

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