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New technology to improve road gritting

The new forecasting technology provides updates on road surface temperatures for the road network across Orkney, enabling the gritter teams to identify specific parts that require treatment (Tom O’Brien).

The county’s gritter crews were on the road again last week for the first time this winter as temperatures dipped around Orkney.

Also, for the first time Orkney Islands Council is utilising a new weather forecasting system which allows treatment to be targeted where it’s needed – instead of a blanket coverage of areas.

The technology provides updates on road surface temperatures for the road network across Orkney, enabling the team to identify specific parts that require treatment, rather than large geographic areas.

It means the gritter crews are being sent to the areas where they are most needed, cutting down on the use of salt supplies, unnecessary mileage, and use of fuel while allowing crews to be diverted to other roads maintenance work.

Hayley Green, the council’s interim executive director of environmental, property & IT services, said the council’s roads and environmental services department is trialling the DTN model of route-based forecasting until the end of the 2021/22 winter season.

“DTN provide weather forecasting support to over 100 authorities across the UK. The forecasting divides the road network into individual routes rather than geographic areas making it easier for decision makers to direct resources where they are needed most.

“Each island is designated as a route, while the Mainland is divided into eight routes. Up until this year, the decision on how, and when, to treat the road network in the winter months has relied upon the information received from two weather stations at the Mill of Rango in Sandwick and at Kirkwall Airport, basically covering the East and West, while this has been helpful, it was a very broad brush.

“The system is being closely monitored by officers throughout the winter season with view to summarise its performance at the conclusion of the trial next year. This will determine if we want to adopt this technology on a permanent basis.”

Stressing that road safety remains the top priority, she said:

“I want to reassure our communities that if we are treating areas of the West Mainland, but not parts of the East for example, we are doing this because we are confident – based on the data – that the roads in the East do not require it.”

There are 370km of priority one roads in Orkney, 410km of priority two routes and 206km of priority three roads.

In line with nationally recommended guidance, the council’s Winter Service Policy 2021-26 points out that the network will be treated in the morning when road surface temperatures are predicted to be below 2C, and in the afternoon when they are predicted to be below 1C.