Wednesday morning in West Michigan started off like many other January days. However, some very light rain (only a few hundredths of an inch) fell across portions of the area. Barry and Ionia Counties saw the worst conditions develop when roads began to ice up. So while the precipitation fell as liquid, it was obvious with accidents developing that some roads were beginning to ice. Most air temperature readings were well into the 30s above freezing, but it was clear pavement temps were at/below freezing as the liquid precipitation hit the ground.
Unfortunately, West Michigan is in a huge area across the region (and state) void of any real-time road data sensors. Click here to see the national map of sensors. That will soon change as MDOT says following a pilot program in Northern Michigan, installation of these sensors will commence around Kalamazoo and vicinity in 2015. The sensors offer real-time data at their location including temperature, winds, and precipitation. That means that everyone will eventually have access to data online giving up-to-the-minute road/pavement temperatures in a variety of locations. As meteorologists, we’ll be able to see if conditions are conducive to water or ice on the roadways.
Click here to see the MDOT map of Michigan sensors, traffic cameras, and construction areas. Only the icons with a camera and sun are road sensors…all of them are across northern lower and the U.P. of Michigan. The camera icons indicate traffic cameras (most of them around Grand Rapids and Detroit), and the construction barrels (mainly across southern lower Michigan) denote construction areas. Notice the void of road sensors in West Michigan. While the southwest region of MDOT will get these installed first (Kalamazoo), Lakeshore locations along U.S. 31 will be next by 2016 along with Grand Rapids.
These sensors are all part of a RWIS program known as road weather information systems. The sensor itself is about the size of a hockey puck that will be installed in the road, then transmit data to a tower and eventually to several sites online. The National Weather Service, NOAA, TV meteorologists, and the public will have access to all the information as the sites appear online in a variety of locations. The idea is to provide drivers real-time data so they can allow extra time for a commute, slow down, and arrive safely at their destination. Traffic mishaps similar to the ones we had Wednesday morning could have possibly been avoided had we known pavement temperatures from road sensors.
While the cost of the sensor program and installation itself is not yet known, Michigan will certainly have a fairly comprehensive network of live MDOT traffic cameras coupled live road data sensors by the time the network is complete in a few more years. The attached picture is courtesy of MDOT and is a photo of one of the small transmit towers used in conjunction with sensors in the pavement. If you need to check radar, satellite, temperatures, or the forecast, simply click over to www.fox17online.com/weather.