J2.3 Surface Transportation Weather Collaboration: The Pathfinder Project

Tuesday, 12 January 2016: 4:00 PM
Room 244 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Kevin M. Barjenbruch, NOAA/NWS, Salt Lake City, UT; and P. A. Pisano, B. C. Boyce, and D. A. Carpenter

Quantitative and anecdotal evidence has suggested improved response to high-impact road weather messages when the forecast and impact information relayed by the Road Weather Enterprise is consistent across all outlets. However, a multitude of forecasting and transportation entities within a given geographical area will release their own road weather information prior to a storm, placing the burden of aggregating and weighing the information on decision makers and the traveling public, decreasing the effectiveness of the intended decision support services supplied by these entities.

In an effort to better serve the end user (decision makers and the traveling public), the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) and the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Road Weather Management Program (RWMP) have initiated Surface Transportation Weather Collaboration: The Pathfinder Project to build a framework that facilitates collaborative partnerships between NWS Weather Forecast Offices (WFO), state departments of transportation (DOT), and if applicable, private sector weather service providers (WSP) supporting DOTs. The Pathfinder Project has identified a singular interstate corridor (Interstate 80) across 4 states (California, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming) with a variety of WFO, DOT, and WSP operational configurations to test the implementation of a cross-entity collaboration framework in a real-world setting. A key mission shared among the Pathfinder participants is to improve safety, mobility, and the economy. Essential to accomplishing this mission is communicating information to decision makers and the public to ensure informed decisions and preparedness when faced with rain, snow, fog, wind, wildfire, or other potentially impactful weather events to the surface transportation system. Through collaboration on road weather impact messages, WFOs, DOTs, and WSPs can better serve the needs of users of road weather information, supporting mission fulfillment.

Here, the term impact is used to distinguish the type of information relayed to the public. The impact forecast adds value to a standard weather forecast by placing the weather into the context of the local transportation system. Impact considers the weather, the road surface, average traffic volume, the effects of weather on road surface conditions and traffic flow, how effective maintenance mitigation efforts will be during the event, and so on. Classifying the impact of an upcoming event demands a thorough knowledge of the weather and traffic in a given area, as well as some understanding of human factors. For example, all else being equal, a given winter storm may have a low to moderate impact in an area where traveling in wintry weather is commonplace, but have a high impact in an area that rarely, if ever, encounters wintry road conditions. Time of day and traffic volume are important, as the impact of a weather event will be greatly increased if it is forecast to occur during a peak commute period. While the classification of impacts is somewhat subjective, the Pathfinder participants can arrive at shared impact messages through relationship building, education about each other's agency operations, and collaboration.

During the winter of 2014-15', the first winter of the Pathfinder Project, the WFOs, DOTs, and WSPs collaborated before, during, and after winter storms to establish common impact messages for dissemination. The collaboration was performed via NWSChat, emails, conference calls, and in person. Messages disseminated by the NWS were via services such as text products, websites, graphics, video briefings, social media, and media interviews. DOT traveler information systems such as Dynamic Message Signs, websites, graphics, Highway Advisory Radio, and 511 were employed, with information also relayed through social media and media interviews. The Pathfinder Project team documented collaboration efforts for use as input into a guidance document.

This presentation will discuss (a) the Pathfinder Project background, (b) current status, (c) successes and challenges thus far, (d) the guidance document, and (e) anticipated future steps. The Pathfinder Project has the potential to significantly enhance communication of road weather information, ultimately improving societal response to weather events impacting the surface transportation system.

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner