Balancing Road Safety and Operational Efficiency of the Network During Winter

Highway Authorities in the UK have legal obligations under The Highway Act 1980 and Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, to firstly maintain the Public Highway in a safe condition but with an additional specific duty to remove snow and ice from the carriageway.

Highway Authorities in the UK have legal obligations under The Highway Act 1980 and Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, to firstly maintain the Public Highway in a safe condition but with an additional specific duty to remove snow and ice from the carriageway.
We are officially now in winter and Winter Service Decision Makers will be tasked with the crucial decision of whether to de-ice the roads. During the winter season (1st October – 30th April or 15th May in Scotland), Highway Authorities receive daily data about the weather for their area from weather forecasting companies such as the Met Office or Metdesk Ltd.

Weather forecasts are derived from historical climatic information, real-time information and complicated computer modelling that allow forecasters to advise what is likely to happen in the coming hours and days. For the de-icing treatment of roads, when road surface temperatures are forecast to drop down to between 0°C to +1°C (marginal temperatures), the Decision Makers face the difficult task of balancing road safety and operational efficiency of the network.
Ian Thomas, Business Development Manager at Rennicks, previously worked at MeteoGroup UK – part of Europe’s biggest privately owned weather data supply company which provides both historical and accurate forecast weather information to a variety of sectors, including roads and rail. Ian looked after a number of their Winter Service Accounts in the roads sector. Ian said, “Treating roads too late can lead to accidents and congestion, but unnecessary treatment of roads can result in high additional costs due to wasted de-icing agents and labour costs. An average cost is about £400 for the deployment of one gritter including materials. Furthermore, unnecessary treatment of roads leads to additional environmental damage to our eco systems and road’s infrastructure.”



Ian continued, “Across the UK, there are around 270 synoptic weather stations providing real-time information in hourly increments to the weather forecasters and decision makers, but the main problem is their spacing which is usually about 40km apart from each other. This means that if there is any doubt about whether ice is likely to form on our roads, the decision makers will normally elect to de-ice at quite a high cost.”

Ian and the team at Rennicks recently worked alongside Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council to help them prepare for severe weather. Blackburn with Darwen has a split climate with altitudes as low as around 150m above sea level (ASL) in low areas of Blackburn, but rising to around 280m ASL in Lower Darwen. These wide-ranging altitudes also lead to very different weather patterns and climates, particularly in winter season. With nearby weather stations located in Burnley and on the M65 motorway, it simply isn’t possible to accurately determine and pinpoint if a de-icing action is needed completely across the Borough, or just in certain parts. Therefore, when marginal temperatures are forecast, the gritting machines inevitably go out, often several times a day, depositing varying amounts of de-icing agents on the roads.
Ian said, “Weather stations need power to detect the actual weather and road conditions in real-time, but they also need to return the data to the forecasters and decision makers accordingly. Whilst electrical power is normally available in built up conurbations, it often isn’t readily available in more rural areas which is often the best location to collect the data from. To install a dedicated conventional power supply to a remote location is often impractical and cost prohibitive – and that is before disruption to the general public and the need for expensive Traffic Management is taken into account.

At Rennicks, we have an environmentally friendly, self-contained Off Grid Power Solution (OGPS) that collects energy from solar panels and wind generators and stores this energy in lithium-ion batteries located in the base of the column. This electrical energy can then be used to power CCTV cameras, ANPR systems and weather stations amongst other technologies. This was the perfect solution for Blackburn with Darwen to enable them to collate more accurate data in specific locations, without additional running costs, to make more informed decisions whether to de-ice the roads. Working with weather data providers Vaisala Ltd, Rennicks installed two brand new weather stations within the Borough – one on the A6119 at Yew Tree Drive in Blackburn and one at the A666 at Bull Hill in Darwen. Download and read the full case study here.
Dwayne Lowe, Head of Highways and Network Operations at Blackburn with Darwen Council said, “The provision of these two new weather stations will ensure we receive a robust data-led forecast and provide efficient gritting operations.”

Due to climate change, there is a real possibility of marginal temperatures increasing in years to come. By getting accurate, real-time information about the road conditions in the Borough from local weather stations, Blackburn and Darwen will look to make significant savings by removing unnecessary de-icing treatments over the coming years.

If your authority would benefit from a more accurate, data-led weather forecast, please contact us on 01928 579966 or email our customer service team on

To find out more about our Off Grid Power Solution, download our brochure here.

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