Integrating Meteorological Service Delivery for Land Transportation

Today, the aviation, marine and land transportation sectors each use their own approaches to deal with the effects of high-impact weather on the safety, efficiency and continuity of their operations. Each also uses its own distinct and separate customized weather information. However, the movement of people and goods in our modern world is mostly multi-modal and highly integrated. In order to mitigate the impact of weather on the performance of the transport system, there is a need to deliver meteorological services in an integrated, seamless manner.

It is the integration of meteorological service delivery for land transport that will be the biggest challenge for National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs). The land transport network is much less regulated and harmonized, especially at the national and international levels, than that of the aviation and the marine sectors1. The weather vulnerability of land transport compared to aviation and maritime transport is painfully apparent in the accident statistics.  Data from the U.S.2 indicate that weather-related road accidents result in nearly 6 000 deaths per year with more than US$ 40 billion in economic loss.  The economic impact of air traffic delays attributed to weather, while considerable, is only about 10% of the economic impact of weather-related highway losses. With this in mind, there would seem to be considerable value in using the aviation and marine experiences as benchmarks that provide valuable “lessons learned” in the development of standards and guidance for the seamless, integrated meteorological service delivery concept for land transport.

NMHSs have a leading role to play in facilitating the development and implementation of integrated meteorological service delivery; however, public-private partnerships will be essential. In most cases, the NMHSs are well-positioned to provide the foundational elements to effectively support integrated service delivery. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to minimize the relevance of private companies with long histories of providing user-specific weather guidance to the transport industry. The partnership model will depend on a plethora of factors such as NMHS capacity and capability, local practices and culture, resource availability, geography, types of end users, and transport system makeup and maturity. Public-private partnerships, in various forms, will be vital in fulfilling the integrated meteorological service delivery paradigm.



Integrating Meteorological Service Delivery for Land Transportation/ShutterstockWeather-based Integrated Service Delivery refers to the optimized network that results from a unified response to adverse weather conditions. That includes the common situational awareness and understanding that is gained through the seamless availability, use, and communication of tailored weather information and decision-support services. In the case of transportation systems, the ultimate objective is to achieve an “integrated service delivery” capability across multiple transport modalities.

This would mean that in moving goods or people from Point A to Point C, for example, it would be necessary to consider the net effect of adverse weather: at the departure terminal (Point A); along a rail line (Point A to Point B), at a transit hub (Point B), along a highway (Point B to Point C), and at the arrival terminal (Point C).   And since the journey will last many hours and cover perhaps hundreds of kilometres, the weather impacts will need to be considered at different times and multiple locations.  It is also important to keep in mind that the same weather conditions, for example, freezing rain could have very different impacts at different points – and for different users – along the route.  It can be a very complex and complicated process.

The impacts of extreme weather on transport are well understood for most sectors; however, it remains a significant challenge to quantify and mitigate these impacts across multiple sectors, across various time and space scales, and within and across geopolitical boundaries. This will require addressing a variety of considerations such as identifying user-specific requirements; optimizing weather, road, rail and traffic measurements; using and blending multiple forecasting techniques, including nowcasts and numerical weather predictions; improving communications and message delivery; and seamlessly integrating across multiple transport sectors. The minimum requirements are likely be a seamless suite of observations, forecasts and decision-support services. With integrated service delivery, reliability, relevance, quality and other key weather information value added attributes for end-users will often be common to multiple transport modes, yet there will be some information that is unique to each mode and even to each user within a mode.

Integrated weather-based services will have to be tailored to fit the needs of the different user groups, including:

  • Trucking, airline, bus and shipping companies
  • Transport users (e.g. postal services, medical supply companies, general public)
  • Airport operators, airline companies and service providers
  • Public and private motorway maintenance organizations
  • Emergency managers
  • Harbour masters
  • Railroad companies

To provide actionable guidance – that is, decision support – it will ultimately be necessary to fully assess and understand the implications of an integrated service delivery approach on all stakeholders. It will be equally important to educate users and decision-makers to understand the weather services provided in order for them to optimize use throughout their value chain. This essential step will underscore the added benefit from improved and seamless weather information services. As transport networks are increasingly global, the need for coordination and standardization is also urgent.


Integrated Meteo Service Delivery
“Integrated meteorological service delivery” is the seamless provision of standardized weather-dependent decision-support services across any or all interconnected surface transport modes: airports, ports and harbours, rivers, lakes, roads and rail.

Framing the integration challenge

Advances in meteorological observations, in analysis tools and their application, in weather forecast models, unified approaches across transport modes, as well as cultural changes on both sides by the weather providers and the stakeholder organizations, will be necessary in order to attain a viable level of integrated service delivery. An evolutionary process – that could begin by ensuring there is a common situational awareness across the transport sector during high-impact weather events – would probably be best. Following that, the weather-related challenges that arise at and between the interconnections among modes (i.e. multimodal integration) and among stakeholders will need to be addressed. This latter step will ultimately be the most important challenge in the process.

A first step could be to use a relatively mature and well-focused user group to frame the multi-modal integration challenge.  This would facilitate the creation of a strategy for developing, testing and documenting best practices, which could be translated to other end-user groups. Ideally, this mature user group would already be experienced with, and understand, the impacts of weather and the need for seamless meteorological service delivery across multiple transport modes – the “curb-to-curb” challenge. A candidate user group might be selected, for example, from among global logistics service providers, emergency management responders or multimodal hub operators.

Integrated land transport services of the future will also depend on advances in a number of meteorological tools and capabilities, including atmospheric and “surface-state” measurement systems, data assimilation methods and numerical weather prediction (NWP) models, and localized nowcasting methods. For example, advances in measurement systems could provide enhanced capabilities to routinely and accurately determine the type and rate of precipitation as it reaches ground level, the depth, intensity and granularity of fog, and so forth.  Better NWP models could improve the spatial and temporal resolution – and the accuracy – of the forecasts of atmospheric conditions.  A review of the observational requirements for the surface transport sector with those for existing WMO application areas could also identify gaps.


Weather Parameters for Transportation The weather parameters, a categorization of weather advisories based on those parameters, and their impacts on transportation (from McGuirk M. et al., 2009)

Leveraging change

Coming technical, cultural and climate changes will impact on the integrated meteorological service delivery paradigm.  Below are a few examples of which service providers will have to keep abreast. Rapidly developing technologies throughout the transport system are opening new possibilities for more advanced weather services for transport system managers and end users alike.  For example, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) capabilities are already in the testing phase and will be introduced in earnest over the next decade. The vehicles themselves will serve as weather sensing platforms, resulting in real-time mobile observations capable of enhancing weather analysis and forecasting.

The road sector is experiencing a technological revolution. Development of autonomous vehicles is quickly moving forward. In fact, semi-autonomous features are already available on some production vehicles, and several manufacturers have announced they will introduce autonomous vehicles five years from now. Automation is also leading to broader-scale control strategies such as vehicle platooning, where the separation of vehicles is managed in an effort to increase safety, improve efficiency, optimize infrastructure usage, and reduce environmental impacts. However, the sensing technologies – LIDAR, radar, radio, etc. – being used in support of the automotive industry’s transformation are sensitive to environmental conditions, thus impacting their performance. It will be essential to fully understand and address the impacts of extreme weather on these technologies in order to ensure the safety of the traveling public. On the other hand, these on-board systems might also serve as another valuable source of local weather and climate information.

Other emerging weather and climate observing platforms include unmanned aerial and marine systems. The proliferation of unmanned systems holds considerable promise for providing additional opportunities to gain a better understanding of weather and climate conditions, particularly in areas difficult to access with conventional measurement systems.  The availability of timely, dense observations of the lowest few kilometres of the atmosphere, as well as observations in and over the oceans, will become more commonplace as these systems evolve.  These observations will help advance the understanding and prediction of high-impact weather conditions that affect land transport.   


Economic Transport Benefits

Many public data streams that are currently only available for a fee are likely to become free and easily accessible.  Cloud-based service models offer unprecedented prospects for wider use of weather and climate information and data. Communication channels are also certain to change in unpredictable ways. One thing is certain: meteorological information of all types will become more accessible to more interested user groups (public and private alike) at lower costs. 

The increased availability of observations and computational resources, along with advances in numerical modelling, will contribute to ever-improving weather and climate information for end users. In addition, the rise of techniques such as data mining and machine learning will help to fuel new weather-related products and services. Those surrounding the communication of impacts are of special interest to many stakeholders. Through the combination of conventional weather data (e.g. observations, forecasts, etc.) and ancillary transport data (e.g. traffic, traffic flow, etc.), new weather-related, impact-based capabilities are emerging. These impact-based products and services can give transport operators and the traveling public improved insight into the anticipated impacts resulting from adverse weather conditions or climate change, enabling more effective mitigation strategies.


Contribute to a global effort

WMO recognizes the importance of weather and related environmental services for land transport as well as the role of public-private partnerships in service delivery. The Seventeenth World Meteorological Congress in June 2015 reaffirmed the commitment of WMO to the integrated service delivery paradigm.

The development of seamless integration of meteorological service delivery for land transport remains a considerable challenge but can be a fundamental step in mitigating the impacts of adverse weather on land transport systems, improving safety, efficiency and economic loss. It will not be easy. Development and implementation will likely require an evolutionary approach based on a succession of “baby steps” rather than a giant leap forward. WMO, through its programmes and the NMHSs of its Members, will have to take on a leading role. 

The ultimate goal is service delivery that meets the needs of the transport operators and users, ensuring the safe, effective and efficient operation of the transport network, whether it is global, national, regional or local. 

The ultimate goal is service delivery that meets the needs of the transport operators and users, ensuring the safe, effective and efficient operation of the transport network, whether it is global, national, regional or local. Interestingly, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared 2011-2020 as the decade of traffic safety; an integrated weather service delivery capability for land transport would surely make a significant contribution to this global effort.



WMO Expert Task Team - Kevin R. Petty, Paul Bridge, Walter F. Dabberdt, Vaisala; Thomas Frei, Private consultant, Arni, Switzerland; Pekka Leviakangas, VTT Technical Research Centre; Pertti Nurmi, Finnish Meteorological Institute

WMO Secretariat - Tang Xu, Director, Weather and Disaster Risk Reduction Service Department



1 Meteorological service delivery is highly standardized for enroute flight operations while service delivery for (ground) terminal operations is not.

2 National Research Council, 2010.

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