In Washington State, 80 percent of winter maintenance personnel that used the statewide road/weather information website said the National Weather Service warnings, satellite and radar images, and weather maps were useful.

March 2002
Statewide,Washington,United States

Summary Information

In 1998, the Washington State DOT (WSDOT) implemented a program to provide enhanced weather information to WSDOT maintenance personnel and the traveling public. The program, known as rWeather, integrated environmental sensor data from nearly 400 weather stations throughout the state and made it available on an internet website. Prior to the deployment, WSDOT maintenance personnel had limited access to road-weather data, and dial-up connections had to be made independently to each nearby environmental sensor station (ESS). After several hardware and software improvements were implemented as part of the rWeather project, WSDOT maintenance personnel were able to access road-weather information from multiple stations simultaneously, and view the information in a user friendly format.

The primary focus of the study was to evaluate the impacts of providing WSDOT maintenance personnel with improved access to ESS data. In addition, a limited survey of on-line visitors was conducted to evaluate the most popular features used by the general public.

In May and June of 2001, survey questionnaires were distributed to WSDOT maintenance area superintendents, supervisors, and lead technicians to evaluate their use and attitudes towards the new system. A total of 129 questionnaires were returned and analyzed (51 percent response rate). Forty-four percent of respondents were superintendents or supervisors, and 56 percent were lead technicians.

Visitors to the rWeather website were invited to respond to a short on-line survey for a period of approximately one month (March 6, 2001 to April 9, 2001). During that time, 140 members of the general public and 12 WSDOT personnel filled-out the on-line survey. The author noted that the results were based on a self-selected survey group; therefore, their opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of all rWeather site users or of the general population of highway users in the Northwest. The Internet survey approach was used as a way to efficiently reach a diverse group of private and commercial information seekers interested in road-weather information on the Internet.


WSDOT Maintenance Personnel Survey

Overall, 79 percent (99/125) of the road maintenance personnel surveyed were aware of the rWeather website, and of those, 78 percent (77/99) had used it. Nine of the 10 features on the rWeather website were rated useful by more than half of the respondents. The most valuable features, recognized as useful by more than 80 percent of respondents, included: National Weather Service (NWS) warnings; satellite and radar images; and the statewide weather map.

The table below details the distribution of responses to the following survey question:

Please rate each of the rWeather site's features in terms of its usefulness for maintenance decision making.

rWeather Features

Percent of respondents that found the feature useful
Number of respondents that found the feature useful
Number of respondents that found the feature not useful
Number of respondents that did not use the feature
National Weather Service warnings
91% (n=81)
Statewide weather map
89% (n=82)
Weather satellite images
90% (n=80)
Weather radar images
89% (n=80)
Camera images
81% (n=80)
Other weather station conditions
79% (n=80)
RWIS station weather conditions
69% (n=78)
Highway radio advisories
68% (n=81)
Construction activities
56% (n=78)
Current statewide pavement temperatures
46% (n=80)

The survey respondents reported that their most common winter maintenance problems were black ice, frost, and snow accumulation, and to assess these hazards most staff reported using road patrols. Interestingly, less than half of the respondents indicated that the rWeather pavement temperature feature was useful.

The study recommended that comparisons be made between forecast and actual pavement temperatures and atmospheric weather conditions, and the findings shared with maintenance personnel. The cost of applying anti-icing chemicals were they are not needed is very high, and if applied incorrectly can actually make the road slippery. Survey results showed that approximately 70 percent of respondents wanted more investment in training related to interpreting weather data, and 50 percent of respondents wanted additional training to improve anti-icing strategies.

rWeather Website User Survey

The most frequently used features included information on weather and pass conditions, traffic cameras, and road temperatures. Less frequently used features included information on construction activities, traffic incidents, audio highway advisories, and marine weather information. The author noted that even the less frequently used features were used by approximately half of the respondents. However, given the self-selected nature of the survey, respondents were likely to have been individuals who found the features useful or continued to visit the website because the features were useful to them.


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Road Weather Information Systems: Enabling Proactive Maintenance Practices in Washington State

Author: Boon, Catherine and Chris Cluett

Published By: Washington State Transportation Center

Prepared by the University of Washington and Battelle for the Washington State Transportation Commission and U.S. DOT

Source Date: March 2002

EDL Number: 13660

Other Reference Number: Report No. WA-RD 529.1



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