WeatherCloud system helps Alaska combat dangerous road conditions

WeatherCloud system helps Alaska combat dangerous road conditions
The Microsoft Azure-powered platform provides data for better decision making

Elly Yates-Roberts |

The state of Alaska is using the WeatherCloud system from Internet of Things company Fathym to combat snow and ice. The Microsoft Azure-powered solution uses a network of sensors that track road temperature, pavement conditions and wind speed, reducing the waste of resources and the associated costs.

Unlike atmospheric weather data from satellites, WeatherCloud gives users hyperlocal, road-weather data at the ground level.

Dan Schacher, district maintenance superintendent at the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and his crews are now ready for ice, with brawny ice-breakers, anti-icing chemicals, roadside weather stations with the help of WeatherCloud.

“We were expending a lot of unnecessary resources – staff time and money,” said Schacher. “We needed better data to make better decisions.”

Sending snow ploughs when they’re not needed costs money and wastes resources. Keeping them parked when they are needed puts drivers at risk. What’s more, applying salt brine at the wrong temperature actually worsens conditions.

“I’ll be honest. If we put chemicals down at the wrong time, I can actually make ice instead of get rid of ice,” said Schacher. “The decision comes down to me. But I’m much more confident now as we see events approach. With WeatherCloud, we’ve empowered our staff to be more proactive in fighting winter storms.”

The technology aggregates sensor data using Microsoft Azure, then adds meteorological data, applies machine-learning algorithms and produces accurate, real-time, road-weather reports. This then feeds into Alaska’s weather-forecasting and road-maintenance data system, which helps Schacher and the department make decisions on how to treat roads.

Transportation departments around the country including Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Iowa have also used WeatherCloud and Fathym is exploring other industries for its sensing technology.

“We want to get them better information that allows them to be proactive,” said Mike Chapman, chief weather officer at Fathym. “They can take a different route or park for half a shift to be not vulnerable and get to their destination more safely.”

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