Aurora is an international program of collaborative research, development, and deployment in the field of road weather information systems (RWIS). The program, launched in 1996, serves the interests and needs of public agencies by bringing together several U.S., Canadian, and European agencies.
The Aurora vision is to deploy RWIS to integrate state-of-the-art road and weather forecasting technologies with coordinated, multi-agency weather monitoring infrastructures. It is hoped this will facilitate advanced road condition and weather monitoring and forecasting capabilities for efficient highway maintenance and real-time information to travelers.
Aurora's initiatives are conducted and funded by member agencies, for member agencies.
Several times a year, Aurora members meet to set the agenda for RWIS research. Selected initiatives are led by "champion" member agencies, managed by committees of Aurora members, and funded out of the Aurora pooled fund. Through these meetings, members keep informed about progress on program initiatives and other RWIS-related activities around the world, share their agencies' accomplishments, and learn solutions for common in-the-field problems.
Lee Smithson, long-time AASHTO SICOP coordinator from the Iowa Department of Transportation, compares Aurora meetings to mini "international RWIS scanning tours." Because current members include international leaders in RWIS research, technology, and deployment, many of whom are also affiliated with AASHTO's Snow and Ice Cooperative Program (SICOP) and other RWIS-related programs, the breadth and quality of information exchanged at these meetings is invaluable.
A road weather information system (RWIS) can be defined as a combination of technologies that uses historic and current climatological data to develop road and weather information (for example, nowcasts and forecasts) to aid in roadway-related decision making.
The three main elements of RWIS are:
Environmental sensing stations (ESS) are components of RWIS that provide environmental data. Many types of data can be collected, the most common type being air temperature, amount and type of precipitation, visibility, dew point, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, pavement temperature, subsurface temperature, surface condition (dry, wet, frozen), amount of deicing chemical on the roadway, and freezing point of the road surface. Sensors are placed at the roadside or in the roadway itself.
Remote processing units (RPUs) placed along the roadway contain some or all of the road and weather sensors. In some cases, the pavement sensors are located apart from the RPU, with several pavement sensors capable of being linked to one RPU. However, these RPUs have limited local intelligence for processing so data is transmitted to a central server, which could be generically termed a central processing unit (CPU). This central server is typically located in a highway maintenance facility and provides communication, collection, archiving, and distribution of the data. The raw data are used directly or in coordination with a service provider to prepare nowcasts or forecasts. Forecasts can be used to predict site-specific weather and pavement conditions. Real-time weather information is important, although, the greatest benefits are accrued through the use of tailored forecasts such as those aimed specifically at supporting maintenance operations.
First generation RWIS were used by highway maintenance personnel to assist in the decision making process of applying labor, equipment and materials as cost-effectively as possible during the course of a storm event. The information is used for monitoring and planning operations such as scheduling personnel, timing operations, selecting roadway control materials, and deploying equipment cost-effectively. Furthermore, RWIS information assists with budgeting and programming. Several distribution mechanisms used for information dissemination include Internet, Intranet, satellite, and dial-up lines.
As technology use has expanded throughout the surface transportation world in general, RWIS use has expanded as well. The weather and road condition information is now being disseminated to a wide range of transportation users and operators to aid in their decision making. The largest constituency within this expanded market is the traveling public, though many others benefit for this expansion, such as traffic managers and transit operators.