In the last three years, MetService and the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) have installed 42 solar-powered, automatic weather stations along the Desert Road, on roadsides through South Island high country and other difficult routes.
Completed in November 2010, the network has been recognised as the most outstanding example of road safety innovation in New Zealand by the Institution of Professional Engineers. While it is difficult to isolate the network's effect on road safety, 54 fewer people died in road accidents in the first eight months of 2011 than in the same period last year. That's a drop of 24 percent. MetService is proud to be part of anything that helps save lives.
Roadside weather stations are used widely overseas; however, MetService's Paraparaumu workshop built the masts and cabinets in New Zealand for less than half the price of an imported kit. The electronic brain powering the stations and the web platform that delivers forecasts are also MetService innovations.
Each station is linked to sensors that feed back real-time data on wind speed and direction, rainfall, temperature, humidity and the state of road surfaces. Stations send this information electronically back to base where it is incorporated into thermal profiles for each area and delivered as thermal forecast maps to roading contractors via the web and text messaging.
Snow and ice are significant road hazards. Before the stations were installed, decisions to close or treat roads relied heavily on ad-hoc observation and experience. Now contractors can accurately assess which parts of the road will freeze, and whether to use grit to stop motorists skidding or more expensive ice inhibitors that are efficient and environmentally friendly but wash away in the rain.
The stations have other uses too, such as monitoring gale force winds on Auckland's Harbour Bridge and Wellington's Aotea Quay. All this is good news for motorists, making our roads safer and journeys less likely to be disrupted.