Finland has long winters, with road conditions that can change very much and very quickly. Whilst we cannot change the weather it is possible for us to minimize the effects of weather by knowledge, information and better winter maintenance and traffic management.
In Finland winter problems affect not only roads but also maritime, aviation and railway networks. Finnish transportation planning manager Yrjö Pilli-Sihvola says that Finland joined a COST30 project in the 1970s called “Electronic Traffic Aids ” and was responsible for “Automatic detection of adverse weather conditions”.
Since those times we have developed new methods to help to improve methods for winter maintenance operations. We have improved information distribution to road users and to traffic management, for instance we first automatically changing speed limits 20 years ago in 1994.
To manage winter conditions well you need a supply of basic data and a system to handle it so that you can provide with critical and useful information. ”Of course we need a lot of knowledge too, and very good co-operation with different partners. I think that in Finland we have both these things and we have learned from them”, says Pilli-Sihvola.
When we talk about road weather information systems I think that we are one of the leading countries in the world. That’s because we have always had a problem to solve and we have had good cooperation to solve it. In Finland we know how to measure weather and road conditions – for instance, we have the Vaisala company, a leading worldwide specialist in atmospheric sensors and systems. The Finnish Transport Agency is developing RWIS (the Road Weather Information System) all the time to collect and process information and improve the distribution to road users to help make the roads safer to drive.
The Finnish Meteorological Institute contributes to winter maintenance with a great deal of satellite and weather radar information, hundreds of weather observations from around the country, and new forecasting models to produce information about future weather from now to 5 or 10 days ahead. Specially devised road weather models take into account all the important facts concerning road conditions. As well as the FMI we have the commercial weather forecasting company FORECA who are developing road weather forecasts and other services for maintenance organisations and to road users.
Finnish winter maintenance operators develop their systems to take advantage of all the information that is available to support their operations so they can work more efficiently and also use less salt and so be more environmentally friendly as well as saving money!
The users of Finnish roads are accustomed to dangerous conditions but because the weather can sometimes change so rapidly they also need the help of road weather information systems to help them to drive safely and smoothly to their work or to their holidays.