Alaska Road Weather Research: Partnership with NCAR

AIDC project number: RR12.01


Billy Connor

  • AUTC
  • Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities: Research and Technology Transfer
  • Start Date: Jan 5, 2012
  • End Date: Jan 5, 2013

Project Summary

In an effort to mitigate the challenges associated with winter roadway maintenance decisions, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) initiated a program in 2001 aimed at developing a winter road Maintenance Decision Support System (MDSS). The primary goal of the MDSS program is to construct a functional prototype MDSS that can provide objective guidance to winter road maintenance decisionmakers concerning the appropriate treatment strategies to employ to control roadway snow and ice during adverse winter weather events. Another important goal of the project is to design the system in a flexible manner, which will allow for the transfer of this technology to independent entities that can tailor the system to users in all parts of the world. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), which is operated by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), has been the prime laboratory responsible for research and development efforts related to the MDSS. The FHWA MDSS utilizes current weather observations and numerical model predictions from multiple sources to produce route-specific analyses and forecasts of environmental conditions. Output from this process is used to drive an energy balance model to generate predictions of pavement conditions along each route of interest. Together, environmental and road condition information is used to construct recommended treatments, which are based on standard rules of practice for effective pavement deicing and anti-icing operations. The broad needs met by the MDSS include the following: -Centralized weather support -Enhanced strategic planning capability -Improved tactical response capability -Improved adverse road weather notification -Operation-specific decision support In keeping with the FHWA's desire to allow for the successful transfer of the MDSS technology to different environments and climates, this document outlines the tasks required to successfully deploy the MDSS system as a demonstration over the Fairbanks area in Central Alaska. To date, the MDSS system has been deployed and tuned for the City and County of Denver, E470 Highway Authority (toll road in the Denver area), and Denver International Airport. Testing the system over complex terrain will provide insight into the performance of the system for a different climate and geography using different rules-of-practice models for users that are forced to maintain the roads in a different manner than we are accustomed to in the lower 48 states. In a previous study, which was performed in 2010, the pavement model Model of the Environment and Temperature of the Roads (METRo), which is an integral part of the road weather system, was found to be inconsistent over Alaska’s higher latitudes as well as during non-winter seasons. The problems are likely due to the fact that the model has not been tuned for major surpluses and deficits of radiation. In this proposed effort, UCAR shall perform research and develop a demonstration version of the MDSS tailored for selected roadways in the Fairbanks, AK area. During the demonstration period, the Alaska DOT version of the MDSS shall be run at UCAR on hardware provided by Alaska DOT through the contract for this proposed work. UCAR shall assist the end users (as described in subsequent sections of this proposal) to ensure that the MDSS output routinely is available during the demonstration period. UCAR shall also conduct a performance analysis of the MDSS and report on the findings. At the end of the demonstration, the MDSS server and open-source code will be shipped to Alaska DOT (or to a vendor of their choosing), excluding any proprietary map service software or weather forecast service that was used in the demonstration. These services will need to be secured by Alaska DOT after delivery of the system in order for the system to be installed and made functional.