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Accurate weather data aims to minimise road disruption

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Fleets running vehicles with the latest sat-nav systems could soon find their drivers’ journeys are being updated with weather conditions as well as traffic congestion alerts.

The Highways Agency has extended its weather information service (HAWIS) from winter only to an all-year round service and says the data can be used to service requests for weather conditions from sat-nav providers and haulage companies.

The new service collates weather data from a variety of different sources into a single web portal. Designed, built and operated by IPL, it is enabling the Highways Agency to better monitor trends and weather patterns in response to severe weather conditions.

Fleets may have had to endure the wintry conditions of recent weeks, but a summer of record-breaking rainfall closed roads and created atrocious driving conditions last year.

Many company vehicle drivers were caught up in the ensuing traffic chaos.

It reinforced the importance of year-round accurate weather information.

The Highways Agency has had a road weather information system in place for more than 20 years. However, this had been primarily set up as a winter service running from October 1 to April 30, providing the information required to treat winter conditions on the network. 

As the agency extended its role, including the running of regional and national control centres, the impact of weather requires continuous information in both summer and winter.

“It is important to collect and manage this information in a far more intuitive way,” said HAWIS project sponsor David O’Connor.

Previously, it has struggled to create a consolidated weather view, often searching through emails and other information sources to track changing weather patterns.

O’Connor said: “It became clear the agency required an extensive change to the way in which weather information services were being delivered. We had clear objectives in place, including improving public perception by providing more accurate weather information and reducing the overall costs of data acquisition.”

The new HAWIS addresses every aspect of information collation and delivery.

The key component of the HAWIS is the Weather Central Service, which collates the weather information sources, including national severe weather warning services, flood alerts, weather forecasts and current data from roadside sensors into the central system.

This data is then displayed to registered users – typically local authorities, police, Highways Agency patrols and incident support fleets – via a dedicated website, enabling informed decisions to be made on how best to manage the road network.

The system enables the agency to pre-empt potential disruption and mitigate any adverse effects of weather with advance road side warnings or the deployment of suitable resources, such as salt-spreading vehicles. 

“The agency is keen to use and distribute the data more widely so as to enable greater efficiency in the way in which we deploy our resources,” said O’Connor.

“IPL is not only delivering a greater quantity of data but also data of a higher quality. 

“This provides our forecasters with a richer set of weather information to enable them to make better, more accurate weather predictions.”

With a single source of information, the agency told Fleet News that it is in a good position to respond to fleets looking to improve routing and scheduling performance during poor weather.

IPL’s business intelligence software will enable the Highways Agency to look at different scenarios and profile the impact of weather on different stretches of the road network, including locations that are vulnerable to certain weather events.  

It also plans to continue to use the system to track the accuracy of its weather information, by day/night and by location, to ascertain the timeliness of a forecast, the accuracy of weather stations and identify problems in roadside equipment or communications infrastructure.

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