Impacts of Winter Storm Hazard Communication on Traffic Flow Patterns (251)

Cory Mueller, NWS Sacramento Meteorologist Intern, Sacramento, CA

Eric Kurth, NWS Sacramento General Forecaster



Impacts of Winter Storm Hazard Communication on Traffic Flow Patterns


Cory Mueller, Eric Kurth

Effective recognition of high impact winter storms and communication of appropriate hazard information to partners and the public in sufficient time can make a significant difference in how these events impact travel/commerce. This paper will examine travel flow patterns across Donner Pass on Interstate 80, which is an important travel artery through the Sierra which is frequently impacted by winter storms. Strong winter storm events bring significant travel delays and closures on Interstate 80, with high costs in both lost time and money. Allowing forecasters to know when high travel patterns are expected due to holidays, weekend travel, etc., combined with forecast information will help them determine when high impact events are expected. Proper communication of these events can limit travel disruption by reducing the number of vehicles on the highway, giving well-prepared road crews a better chance to use snow removal equipment quickly and effectively.

Several case studies of high impact winter weather events during busy travel periods will be examined, using data from the CaltransFreeway Performance Measurement System (PeMS). Traffic flow levels will be compared before, during, and after winter storm events with a climatology of normal traffic flows.This data will demonstrate the difference proper messaging can make in alleviating winter travel problems, by showing actual observed changes in driving behavior. This will encourage forecasters to recognize the importance of good Integrated Decision Support Services (IDSS) and the early communication of hazard information using social media and other channels.

Prompt recognition and communication of high impact winter storms has already shown signs of success. These can be used as a model for developing procedures to deal with future events.