The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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UMass Researchers Develop Portable Weather Stations for Monitoring Massachusetts Road Conditions

Russell Tessier

Russell Tessier

Three researchers in our Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department have been developing and testing the prototypes of two portable weather stations that can monitor weather and road-surface conditions on Massachusetts highways. The two “Road Weather Information Systems” (RWIS) provide a cost-effective and accurate solution for monitoring road and weather conditions in places where permanent weather stations are not feasible due to costs, accessibility, siting concerns, or rugged terrain.

The work is being carried out by ECE Professor Russell Tessier and his graduate students, Meha Kainth and Shrikant Vyas, using sensors from two well-known manufacturers of weather instruments.

The objective of the RWIS project has been to build and evaluate two different portable weather stations that can be deployed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) during winter operations. The trailer-based weather stations are designed to capture and analyze the weather conditions and road-surface data required to carry out road maintenance and de-icing operations during the winter and have now been delivered to MassDOT for use in the field.

Each unit consists of a trailer platform equipped with non-invasive sensors for determining the weather measurements (including wind, precipitation, atmospheric pressure, humidity, and dew point) and pavement conditions, along with a data logger to transmit all this information from the sensors to a central server. Since the units rely on solar power and a cellular network for data dissemination, they can conceivably be transported to any highway location. Both portable weather stations have been designed to operate continuously by battery for 72 hours in the absence of sunlight.

The two RWIS technology manufacturers selected for the project were Vaisala Corporation and High Sierra Electronics, and the data captured by the RWIS sensors are reported on websites maintained by the two manufacturers. The two prototypes contain different arrays of atmospheric and pavement sensors, as built by the respective companies.

The High Sierra mobile weather station has been deployed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, at the Route 3 exit ramp to Route 44. The Vaisala trailer was sent to Templeton, Massachusetts, on Route 2.

In the future, the ECE researchers will use their evaluations to select technology from one of the two manufacturers and build three to five more portable weather stations for deployment at other sites in Massachusetts. The ultimate goal will be the analysis of portable weather stations in terms of power, maintenance, and accuracy of data over the winter months.