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MDOT's Road Weather Information System

Environmental Sensor Station at Seney locationJust what are those towers alongside state highways in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula? They're part of the Michigan Department of Transportation's (MDOT) new Road Weather Information System, or RWIS.

Using federal grant funding, MDOT began installing a new system to monitor atmospheric and road surface conditions in an effort to better manage winter maintenance activities and to provide more travel information to motorists. The concept isn't new (several other Midwestern states have similar systems), but it's relatively new to Michigan.

Environmental Sensor Station at Escanaba locationThe system is made up of a network of Environmental Sensor Stations, or ESSs. These stations (the towers you're seeing) combine several types of sensors to measure air and road surface temperatures, barometric pressure, wind, salt concentrations on the road surface, frost depth and dewpoint, as well as cameras to verify conditions at the site. Using the data collected from the 24 existing stations installed from 2008 to 2010, MDOT and the contract county road commissions providing maintenance services are able to better predict when ice will begin to form on the roadway or bridge decks, or see when snow is blowing and drifting across the road, improving efficiency in those operations. The department is scheduled to install 11 more stations this year in the northern Lower Peninsula, and 17 more in 2012 in the Upper Peninsula.

While the network of stations was initially used by MDOT for highway maintenance coordination, the information the stations collect is now available to other agencies.

MDOT is providing motorists with an online view of the ESS cameras, which they could use to help make travel plans or decide when not to venture out. Views from the 12 Upper Peninsula cameras are available now on the Mi Drive site here.

ESS locations as of March 2011 include:

Upper Peninsula

Northern Lower Peninsula

I-75 south of M-48, Rudyard

US-31 and M-115

I-75 north of St. Ignace

US-131 at M-55 (Exit 180)

M-26, Twin Lakes

US-10 and Stiles Road

M-28, AuTrain

US-131 at US-10 (Exit 153)

M-28, Harvey

M-72 and Williamsburg Road

M-28, Michigamme

US-31 near Burgess Road

M-28, Seney

I-75 at Marlette Road (Exit 270)

M-35/M-553, Gwinn

NB I-75 at the Grayling Rest Area

US-2, Brevort

US-127 at M-55 (Exit 194)

US-2, Cooks

I-75 at Cook Road (Exit 212)

US-2 west of M-117, Engadine

I-75 at Mackinaw Highway (Exit 337)

US-2 at Federal Forest Highway 16, Golden Lakes

I-75 at C-58 (Exit 301)