Technology delivers new weather stations to keep traffic moving

New roadside weather stations on five-metre-high poles are helping keep England’s motorways and major A roads moving.

The weather stations provide vital information to the Highways England teams who are in charge of keeping strategic roads safe and reliable for drivers who need to make essential journeys.

The equipment gives live updates on conditions to help maintenance teams decide when to send up to 535 gritters out onto the network, as well as understanding the risks of surface water or high winds causing disruption.

The weather stations also help the Met Office provide precise forecasting information for England’s biggest roads and more than 50 have been replaced at key locations since 2015.

Another 12 are being installed this winter, including at one of England’s highest motorway points on the M6 at Shap in Cumbria.

Other locations are M65 Blackburn; A66 Troutbeck; A66 Banks Gate, M1 Leicester Forest East; A45 Earls Barton, A1 Sibson; A421 Marsh Leys and  A20 Great Hougham.

Katy Little, Highways England’s winter services project manager, said: “We’ve been updating our weather stations with the latest technology to make sure the data we’re getting is as accurate as possible, and to help us make decisions which will keep the roads moving in the winter months.

“The updates from our weather stations also feed into the Met Office’s national system, which means our roadside sensors are helping to produce the weather forecast you check at the start of each day.”

The weather stations use sensors mounted to metal poles at the side of the road to provide statistics on air temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind speed and visibility.

The poles are fitted with hinges which means they can be easily lowered for maintenance without needing to close the road.

Sensors in the road surface and 30 centimetres underground also provide temperature readings as well as accurately measuring the depth of water or snow on the carriageway.

Two CCTV cameras provide live images of the road in both directions.

Abi Oakes, Senior Account Manager, Transport, at the Met Office, said: “Good quality, reliable weather observations are the foundation of any forecast. They allow weather forecast models to reflect the on-the-ground situation, helping to give an accurate starting point for the forecasting process. They also allow us to verify our forecasts and to keep ahead of any changes.” 

Highways England has over 250 weather stations located across its 4,400 miles of motorways and major A roads, and 1,300 specially-trained gritter drivers are ready to work around the clock when wintry weather is forecast.

Overhead warning signs can also be used to inform motorists of severe weather.

This winter the lower traffic levels experienced due to national lockdown restrictions mean gritting services are being adapted to keep drivers safe, with additional salt being spread.

Salt lowers the freezing point of moisture on the road surface, so it must be colder before it turns to ice. Dry salt has to draw in moisture to form a salt solution (or brine) to become really effective and, to help accelerate this process, Highways England’s gritters often spread concentrated brine onto dry salt as it is spread. Traffic makes this more effective as it further crushes and spreads the salt.

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