Alaska Road Weather Research: Partnership with NCAR

Abstract and project information last updated: 10 July 2013. Project updates are dated below.

Billy Connor

AUTC Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities: Research and Technology Transfer

1 May 2012
End Date
1 May 2013


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.

Final Report

Alaska Road Weather Project: Partnership with NCAR
29 Jan 2015

Alaska Road Weather Project: Partnership with NCAR
Mike Chapman, Seth Linden and Crystal Burghardt

Related Project Activity

29 January 2015

Alaska Road Weather Project: Partnership with NCAR

by billy.connor