The nation’s only human Traveler Information Meteorologist keeps his eyes on the roads.
Meteorologists that forecast weather for maintenance or construction activities have been helping UDOT work more efficiently since the mid 1990s. The department has recently added a Traveler Information Meteorologist to focus on weather that affects road users. “UDOT is likely the only state in the U.S. that employs a human traveler information meteorologist, and we are far more successful as a result.” says Weather Information and RWIS Manager Leigh Sturges.
Having a Traveler Information Meteorologist “has greatly improved the quality and quantity of road weather information we provide to motorists,” says Sturges. “The traveler information meteorologist is not only more cost-effective than other strategies, such as automated forecasting systems, but it is also more accurate, because you have a human interpreting and relating weather impacts to motorists, rather than a computer,” says Sturges. Accurate weather forecasts are most useful during incoming storms, for road users in rural areas and for road users traveling on mountain summits or in rural areas.
UDOT’s Traveler Information Meteorologist Justin Connolly uses sophisticated tools and knowledge specific to the region to forecast weather. Roadway Weather Information System stations spread around the state collect information about air temperature, road temperature, humidity and solar radiation. Some RWIS stations have remote controlled cameras. Mobile stations can be strategically placed where needed. Connolly also uses computer generated probability models that use current weather data to show how weather conditions are trending.
Connolly’s also uses his knowledge of location specific weather patterns to forecast weather all over Utah but especially in high traffic volume areas, canyons and mountain summits. For example, the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons get the most snow when northwest winds cause storm air to “ride up over the mountain.”
Connolly concentrates on pinpointing the time and duration of “road snow with storms, high winds and cross winds” which are the conditions that affect travelers the most. Road weather forecasts are available for the public on UDOT’s CommuterLink website, the UDOT Traffic app for smart phones, and are sent by tweets. The forecasts provide plenty of reliable information so road users can make good travel decisions.