Oxfordshire’s Winter Road Management successfully transferred to MeteoGroup
Oxfordshire County Council is responsible for gritting the main roads across Oxfordshire and Paul Wilson, Group Manager Area Operations, is responsible for coordination and delivery of the Winter and Adverse Weather Service in Oxfordshire, both in terms of operational delivery and customer service delivery. He explains how the decision was made to hire MeteoGroup for the winter weather forecasts.
“On a daily basis we make the decision to send out our gritters based on a detailed weather forecast for Oxfordshire. The crucial determinant to judge whether the gritters should go out or not is whether the road surface temperature will be at 0.5 degrees or below. That’s the temperature at which frost will form and surfaces will become slippery.
“Many other factors are also taken into consideration by decision officers. Often it is a straightforward judgement but occasionally there are complications. Sometimes the forecast might be telling us that the night will start very cold and frost will form but it’ll later warm up and that there’ll be rain coming in. And on other occasions there might be snow in the forecast and we’ll want to time the gritting run just right and perhaps fit the snowploughs to the front of the gritters.”
The decision on when to salt is made on the basis of a computerised ice prediction system which compares forecast conditions against actual road temperatures measured at five weather stations around the county. In addition there is a through-the-night watch on conditions. The local knowledge of staff contributes a lot to the final judgement as to when to best carry out precautionary salting.
Paul Wilson: “It’s obvious that in order to do this in a safe and efficient manner we need a continuous availability of accurate and up to date weather forecasts.”
For many years the Met Office was the provider for the bespoke winter weather forecasting service at Oxfordshire. As this arrangement was formally terminated in June 2017, Oxfordshire County Council - already in discussion with potential providers for the 2019/20 season - contacted MeteoGroup to see if they were able to accelerate the arrangements for a 3 year agreement, commencing October 2017 rather than 2019.
The details were finalised and an agreement was reached by August 2017 for a similar service provision to that which was in place with the previous supplier. Orders were placed and a series of coaching sessions arranged for the Decision Officers.
“The MeteoGroup system, RoadMaster looked very different than our old system”, says Wilson. "At the same time, due to having experienced Decision Officers, the information was unsurprisingly similar. The RoadMaster system presented the team with some useful additional functionality, including rainfall and precipitation type graphs spanning 7 days.
“The weather information is laid out in a very readable way with expanding information for each weather domain, each domain usefully linked to the static weather stations around the county. This information is enhanced with colour coded symbols to easily identify likely weather hazards.
“The forecasts were in the main delivered in an accurate fashion at the prescribed times during the day, chosen by OCC, enabling the Decision officers to make their action decision for each forecast”, Paul Wilson continues. “The Action log would then be completed and sent out to those requiring it.
“It was also very convenient having access to the information from other Authorities immediately surrounding Oxfordshire, who were also utilising the RoadMaster system. Oxfordshire have taken the Action log one stage further by also using the facility to record the out of hours emergency calls, thus giving a complete daily picture of events. This has proved beneficial for the defence of third party claims. All archived information is easily retrievable by amending the date/date range on the front page of RoadMaster.
“One additional benefit we now have is that forecasts are provided throughout the year and not just over the winter period, this is proving useful for our highway maintenance scheme teams particularly now that there is an eight-day forward forecast available on the main page. Improvements are regularly being made to RoadMaster to the benefit of the customer and we have seen some positive actions from suggestions for improvement made by our own duty officers.
“Feedback from our Decision Officers is that they have found RoadMaster to be a good system and they like the functionality of it. We now have a three year contract in place and will work with MeteoGroup to continue to seek improvements.”