Automated weather station and webcam improves Leith Saddle road weather communications

Automated weather station Leith Saddle Dunedin

The NZ Transport Agency has funded the installation of an Automated Weather Station (AWS) and webcam at Dunedin’s northern motorway’s highest point, the Leith Saddle. The solar-powered station is being maintained by MetService under a partnership agreement, said Transport Agency Otago/ Southland Journey Manager Graeme Hall.

The new service will help reduce delays for road users when the motorway ices up or when it snows, said Graeme Hall.

The advanced roadside weather station is the 47th in MetService’s road weather network and was installed by MetService engineers. It is solar powered and updates data every minute via the Vodafone cellular network to the MetService forecasters based in Kelburn, Wellington. The elements measured are: wind speed, wind direction, air temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, solar radiation, and a range of road environment parameters via a sensor buried in the road surface.

The site also provides regular images of the road and sky via a 180 degree day/night road weather camera that is fully powered by solar panels and uses a Spark cellular broadband communications link to transfer images.

Leith Saddle is part of the Dunedin Northern Motorway and forms part of State Highway 1. The Saddle’s altitude and geography mean that in severe weather events, snow and ice have often caused road closures and travel delays over past winters.

NZTA journey manager Graeme Hall said the motorway was closed eight times last year, causing complaints from road users, particularly when there was no heavy snow but vehicles had blocked the road. Vehicles were also backed up for more than an hour on the motorway, leading to calls from drivers for improvements in communication and highway management.

NZTA anticipates the installation of the weather station and webcam will help alleviate those delays during extreme weather events.

“The weather station and web cameras will let people see before they leave home what the road is like, the temperature of the road and if anti-freeze has been applied.

“Our maintenance contractor will have machinery to tow any vehicles blocking the motorway from 1 July. This was the reason for increased delays last year, even after the snow had been cleared,” said Mr Hall.

The contracting team would also be stationed at each end of the motorway to police the no-towing vehicles rule in serious winter weather conditions like snow and ice from 1 July.

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