Now that British Summer Time has been packed away into its winter box for another year, minds are being focussed firmly on the coming winter. Memories of the last two particularly harsh winters and the personal and economic carnage they wreaked around the country remain fresh. So the authorities as well as the travelling public are keen to find ways of avoiding the same thing happening again. The area that caused by far the largest levels of disruption over the last couple of years was transport, particularly by road. This is a particularly difficult area because what starts as a transport snarl up can quickly descend into a public health crisis if hundreds of people find themselves stranded in their vehicles for hours in Arctic conditions.
To help combat possibilities, the Met Office has launched a new service aimed at this particular aspect of winter disruption. 'OpenRoad' products allow organisations to access specific route based weather forecasts for transport links under their control. Using these very specific forecasts, workers can be sent to places at highest risk of disruption from upcoming weather conditions. There are real benefits to be gained from the system. Firstly it raises the possibility of a real lessening of holdups due the routes affected by bad weather. Secondly and just as importantly it allows for the more efficient use of resources, as councils will be able to treat specific routes as opposed to general areas, thereby making their resources stretch further without reducing the levels of treatments they can apply.
For example Lincolnshire County Council precautionary salts a priority network of 43 routes which is approximately 3000km (1864 miles) throughout winter when road frosts are forecast. The council has been working closely with the Met Office in trials since 2007 and David Davies, Principal Maintenance Engineer, said, "A route based forecast provides crucial advice on marginal nights, allowing us to treat an eighth of routes instead of the whole, half or a quarter of our network. This will allow us to conserve salt by targeting the network more efficiently, saving fuel and drivers hours. In addition we can generate significant savings for Lincolnshire County Council and provide our tax payers with better value for money."
The route based forecasts can be received for the upcoming 24 hour period for use as an operational decision making tool. John Harrison, Road and Rail Business Manager for the Met Office, said, "In any winter, we can expect hazards such as snow and ice to occur. It is vital that service providers have plans in place to react to our 1-5 day forecasts... and apply precautionary treatment to limit the impact on the travelling public."