Highway maintenance crews from East Chicago to the Ohio River turn to custom-created forecasts by Purdue University students that provide the detailed information needed to plan efficient and effective counterattacks against dangerous winter precipitation.
The forecasts' most unique feature is that they focus on road conditions with information tailored to maintenance crews, and not commuters, including timelines for surface temperatures where the rubber meets the road.
"That's a really important condition to quantify," said Michael Baldwin, the Purdue earth and atmospheric sciences professor who leads the project. "Every day we are focusing on tomorrow because that's what highway crews are planning for right now."
Purdue's Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) Winter Weather Forecast program runs high-resolution numerical models that crews can use to isolate local conditions more precisely than by relying solely on local or national TV forecasts or the National Weather Service, all of which must cater to much broader audiences. This Purdue service has proven particularly helpful for planning purposes during a brutal winter that has severely stretched maintenance resources.
The information is provided by a website that breaks down conditions in each INDOT district, but the forecasts are further focused on the county level to account for localized conditions, including lake-effect snow off of Lake Michigan. The student team's raw data is available to weather professionals and enthusiasts on a second website at http://weather.eaps.purdue.edu/wrfdata/.
Baldwin zeroed in on what information to make available by meeting with highway maintenance officials across the region. His team offers even more detailed information to local crews via online live chat. The team also provides severe weather bulletins via YouTube, such as when tornadoes swept through the Midwest in November.