A fleet of new weather stations have been installed at roadsides around the country in a bid to keep drivers safe in winter. Highways England, the government-run company in charge of the UK’s main roads and motorways, is introducing the five-metre-tall installations in order to keep road management teams up to date with what’s going on.
The equipment monitors weather conditions at various conditions around England’s strategic road network, helping maintenance teams to run the roads. The systems can tell decision makers when to send the country’s 535 gritters out to work, and alert them to potential disruption caused by heavy rain or high winds.
More than 50 weather stations have been replaced at what Highways England calls “key locations” since 2015, and the organisation is installing a further nine new stations this winter. One of these will be at one of the highest points on the motorway network, on the M6 near Shap, in Cumbria.
The weather stations have sensors mounted on metal poles at the roadside to measure air temperature, precipitation and humidity, as well as wind speed and visibility. CCTV cameras are also mounted on these poles to provide live images of the road in both directions.
Those fixtures are joined by more sensors in the road surface and 30 cm underground, which provide surface temperature readings and measure snow depth. Overall, Highways England has more than 250 weather stations across its 4,400-mile strategic road network, which includes motorways and major A-roads.
Abi Oakes, the Met Office’s senior account manager for transport, said the stations would help the organisation create accurate forecasts and notify drivers of changes in the weather.
“Good quality, reliable weather observations are the foundation of any forecast,” she said. “They allow weather forecast models to reflect the on-the-ground situation, helping to give an accurate starting point for the forecasting process. They also allow us to verify our forecasts and to keep ahead of any changes.”
Meanwhile Katy Little, Highways England’s winter services project manager, said the new weather stations would help keep traffic moving on the motorways.
“We’ve been updating our weather stations with the latest technology to make sure the data we’re getting is as accurate as possible, and to help us make decisions which will keep the roads moving in the winter months,” she said. “The updates from our weather stations also feed into the Met Office’s national system, which means our roadside sensors are helping to produce the weather forecast you check at the start of each day.
“It’s important that drivers who must travel in wintery conditions leave extra time for their journeys and make sure they and their vehicle are prepared. Drivers should carry out vehicle checks and pack essential items such as warm clothes and an ice scraper before setting out. Drivers are reminded to check weather forecasts before setting out and to take care when travelling around gritters.”