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 68 existing stations installed since 2008, 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 adding 7 more stations this year in the northern Lower 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 and the public.

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