With winter here, some cities want to be even more prepared for snow and ice by using private meteorological services, which hone in on specific needs and increase lead times for cities so they can respond quicker to changing weather.
Sara Croke is the founder and president of Kansas-based Weather or Not Inc., an award-winning 24/7 weather-consulting service that delivers custom forecasts to companies and cities, especially affected by the weather. As consultants, according to Croke, their job is to fully understand the specific operational logistics of each client so they can give them time to mitigate Mother Nature’s mischief.
“In other words, we need to know the answer before the client even knows he/ she has a question,” said Croke, adding that most of the job postings in private weather forecasting require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science.
“Local public weather services cannot give that level of customer service,” she said. “Are they going to call out a road crew at 2 a.m. when the weather forecast changes so pavements will be pre-treated before rush hour? Are they going to update when roads and bridges will go below freezing or only mention air temperature?
Croke added, “For example, an app or desktop system usually refers to one zip code or city. Our meteorologists know that many of the personnel who respond to winter events in the middle of the night are coming from outside those city limits. We may call a superintendent or a public works director much earlier than the snow or ice will hit their location so she/he can get their drivers and mechanics to the service center safely on dry roads. The same applies to those cities large enough to staff a customer call center or emergency operations center for big storms. The weather information they need may be well beyond their jurisdiction in order to bring personnel in safely.”
When there are back-to-back storms, a city may choose to send its drivers and staff home to rest up before the next storm, rather than make their day longer by loading all the trucks with material. If clients tell their private meteorologist this, that weather consultant will call with an even greater lead time than usual for the clients’ wake-up calls as the meteorologist will factor in the time needed to load trucks before they hit the streets.
“Usually clients will say, ‘We’re sending our guys home to rest now, but if that snow is still coming in for rush hour in the morning, I’ll need an extra hour and a half to load the trucks when they get back in here in the morning, so call us with that extra time in mind,’” said Croke.
“Another factor, which creates the need for a private forecaster, is that your local resources, such as TV, radio or the National Weather Service, are not going to call you out of bed when something changes at 2 a.m. When our meteorologists do that, we help cities keep rush hour safe. All the cool apps and their alerts are fine until a winter maintenance supervisor sleeps through them. We don’t stop calling until we get a human on the phone. We’ve even called people back a few minutes after we spoke to them because we thought they were so groggy they probably rolled over. Sure enough — they had!”
David Huffman, street commissioner of the city of Carmel, Ind., offered his views on why he decided to use a private forecaster.
“Because local television forecasts are for the large viewing areas, and I want and need pinpoint information to make the best decisions I can for the city,” said Huffman. “I’ve used Weather Command/Murray and Trettel Inc. for several years now, and I trust and rely on their information. With all the services they offer and provide the city of Carmel, I know with confidence that I’m making the best decisions on how to fight each storm. They have also saved the city money by using their services — for example, they’ve saved me from calling the crews in too early, or at all, plus from pre-treating for a storm that is actually passing by us. I can’t imagine going through a winter season without this company and the information it provides. It would be comparable to going to battle without communication and intelligence.”
In addition to advance heads-ups, John Boyle, meteorologist and director of sales and marketing with Weather Command/Murray and Trettel Inc., headquartered in Palatine, Ill., stated there are several different reasons why someone would want past weather data. The most basic reason might be for certified snow totals for a location after a snow and ice event.
“Private snowplow companies use our Certified Site-Specific Snowfall reports for billing,” he said. “Some companies have storm total limits or seasonal limits that are tracked and perhaps eventually justify higher charges for their clients.”
Storm reconstruction can also prove beneficial when it comes to litigation reasons, with Boyle saying, “When you get into more specific weather reconstruction, it is probably more for litigation rather than just a simple snowfall total. Our company handles in our Forensic Applications Department legal cases with depositions, and weather reconstruction were needed for court cases. It could be a slip and fall case; it could be an auto accident or trees down, or anything weatherrelated. For example, here in the Chicago area, there are weather reports from O’Hare Airport and Midway Airport. If something happens even just a few miles from either of those reporting locations, the weather can be significantly different with regards to precipitation, winds, lightning, etc. We would use our meteorological knowledge to do a weather reconstruction for a specific location based on all the available facts, such as radar imagery, other observing networks, etc. What happens at O’Hare cannot always be representative of other nearby locations.”
He added, “Our FAD also helps verify insurance policy claims for several insurers.”
Some clients like Lee’s Summit, Mo. use private weather services year-round. Situations may include construction, large event management as well as flash flooding, tornadoes and more.
Saving money by using private weather forecasters can be a real boon to cities, according to Croke.
“Last Wednesday, road temps were staying above freezing but were going to drop into the upper 20s during afternoon rush hour before the pavements dried. One client kept a small crew over to be on guard in case any of the roads they’d treated had any problems during rush hour. They knew they didn’t need a full crew. They also knew those drivers would only be needed for a couple hours, not all night. That’s overtime savings,” she said.
Another client praised Weather or Not for saving him a measurable amount of money.
“We needed three hours of dry weather to continue a chip and seal project. Weather or Not stressed it was raining just south of the airport, but looked like we had a good shot at staying dry,” said Todd Waeltermann of the city of St. Louis, Mo. “I needed an hour’s notice to stop applying material. Weather or Not talked me through the next three hours as I fended off many calls from my superintendent and foreman to stop work. We successfully completed the project and gained a half day of production worth $5,000 and saved a day of inconveniencing the citizens.”
Treatment costs can vary, said Croke, who was hearing $50 to $65 per ton of salt, “but that doesn’t include calcium chloride or the number of tons of treatment that can be wasted on preparing for the wrong storm.”
Construction costs for construction are easy; if you buy concrete or asphalt, you own it when it leaves the vendor’s shop whether you use it or not. That’s a substantial cost in the warmer months, said Croke, and there are also examples for pools, golf courses, major festivals and events throughout any municipality.
Finally, last Thanksgiving in the Kansas City area, the entire region came within half of 1 degree of a devastating ice storm. All Croke’s municipal clients, including the airport and regional utility, did not bring crews in unnecessarily.
“Imagine how that overtime would have added up,” said Croke. “The morale of taking workers away from their families over a holiday would not have gone over well either.”