Integrating Climate and Weather Information into Transportation Decision-making: Best Practices, Barriers, and Needs

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014: 4:00 PM
Room C107 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Cassandra Snow, ICF International, Washington, DC; and E. P. Rowan, M. D. Meyer, J. Brickett, A. Choate, P. Pisano, R. Miller, R. Kafalenos, and R. Hyman

Over the past several years, extreme weather has disrupted transportation systems in nearly every region of the United States. Derechos, snow storms, and intense hurricanes have plagued the east coast, while the Midwest has suffered massive and prolonged flooding. In the southwest, dust storms and wildfires have forced extended road closures and endangered drivers. Transportation agencies have decades of experience managing weather variability and are able to quickly and efficiently handle common weather disruptions. However, many state transportation officials are now managing disruptions from more frequent and intense events.

In recognition of the extreme weather event challenges facing state transportation officials, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) sponsored a two-day symposium in May of 2013 entitled, National Symposium: Impacts of Extreme Weather Events on Transportation. During the Symposium, participants from across the transportation, meteorological, and climate science communities identified best practices and data needs for building resilient transportation systems.

The participants discussed best practices for integrating climate and weather information into operations and maintenance, design, asset management, and emergency management decisions. For example, detailed and accurate data on the past impacts of weather events is valuable to asset managers (who want to track risk over time) as well as emergency managers (who want to use past events to streamline processes for reimbursement). Transportation practitioners from these disciplines have different climate and weather information needs and are incorporating this information into decision making differently. Emergency managers are interested in climate scenarios, including the “worst case” scenario, whereas hydraulic engineers need detailed and reliable information on the probability of flow events. On the other hand, in the absence of detailed data, operations and maintenance departments across the country are already tweaking management practices to respond to increased weather variability.

Transportation practitioners have expressed a need for weather and climate information that fits their decision-making scales and time frames. In particular, further study is needed on whether and how climate model outputs can inform design decisions, and if not, how transportation organizations can ensure they build new assets that will be resilient to future conditions. Practitioners also expressed a need for improved real-time data during extreme weather events, and information on how anticipated event conditions (e.g., wind speeds or storm surge directions) translate to impacts on their system.

Increased collaboration between climate scientists, meteorologists, and transportation practitioners is needed to build a transportation system that is resilient to increasingly extreme weather. Initiatives such as the Infrastructure and Climate Network (ICNet), and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)'s Road Weather Management Program and Sustainable Transport and Climate Change Team are beginning to build collaborative, and results-driven research and monitoring communities at this intersection. These efforts and much more needs to be done to achieve a transportation system that is safe and efficient under all conditions and weather. This presentation will present the current state of the knowledge and will define areas in need of further work across these disparate communities.