Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — As winter weather approaches with its snow-packed roads, one team is working to keep everyone's commutes smooth.
The Utah Department of Transportation weather team hosted an open house Wednesday to showcase its newest technology.
"At the end of the day, people want to know what's coming and how it will impact them," said Kevin Eubank, KSL-TV meteorologist.
Eubank attended the open house along with about 20 other personnel from various news organizations. UDOT held the open house so media outlets — and by extension the public — have access to the most up-to-date information.
The new Citizen Reporting Program will allow residents throughout the state to report weather conditions, allowing UDOT to measure road conditions that sensors do not pick up.
The program will go live Nov. 1. Those interested in becoming a resident reporter can visit udottraffic.utah.gov.
For two major storms in January 2013, most people received their weather information from local TV and radio stations, according to a joint study done by the National Weather Service and the University of Utah.
Out of 400 respondents, 40 percent said they changed their travel behavior by rescheduling, rerouting, not traveling or taking public transit because of that information.
Many in the public do not understand the level of technology and work that go into making sure roads are prepared before and when bad weather hits, Eubank said.
Among the technology UDOT employs are road sensors, both embedded in the road and above the ground.
UDOT crews Wednesday morning were applying brine to the roads that received about a half-inch of snow, according to Roger Frantz, roadway operations manager for UDOT Region 2.
Sensors called "pucks" are embedded in the road let UDOT crews know the solidity of the material on roads, the temperature of the road and of the soil beneath. After a storm, Frantz can call up the puck's log and see how crews can more effectively clear roads and apply salt.
"It's constantly changing," he said of snow removal techniques.
New road weather sensors are now in the Mountain View Corridor, I-15 in Orem and Provo, and I-70 at Fish Creek.
There will soon be three new sensors in Big Cottonwood Canyon and two in Little Cottonwood Canyon, among other areas, according to UDOT.
Another UDOT tool, the road weather alert map, will identify the exact time bad weather will hit specific roads in Utah.
UDOT also plans to eventually install sensors on snowplows to further its ability to provide real-time weather updates.
During the 2002 Olympics, UDOT employed only one person in its weather center. Since that time, the agency has expanded and now has 10 employees assisting with operations.
"Now we're able to tackle this with more precision," said John Gleason, UDOT spokesman.
For traffic and commute information, visit udottraffic.utah.gov.
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