GIS optimizes highway weather forecast

India Meteorological Department has deployed the latest web-based GIS solution to deliver real-time highway weather forecast updates

India Meteorological Department (IMD) issues near real-time information on weather conditions, weather forecasts, and warnings on various temporal and spatial domains. These are tailor made for areas like tourism, VIP movement, and sporting events. Highway forecasts have been recently added to the list and cater to the requirements of people traveling on highways, considering the economics involved in the delay of goods due to weather conditions.

Since its inception, IMD has been using a wide network of static and mobile field observatories to collect meteorological parameters and develop specific products for end users. The absence of GIS tools that could effectively handle dynamic meteorological data (spatial and non-spatial) in various formats and projection systems and develop a comprehensive decision support system or an early warning system, was making it difficult for the organization to obtain effective last mile connectivity in a weather significant time frame. “IMD did not have the capability to dynamically deliver weather updates for the highways. Given the need for real-time data and updates, IMD wanted to deploy the latest GIS technology. Weather updates have a limited self-life and so have to be delivered in real time or at the earliest,” reveals Rahul Saxena, Scientist ‘E’ India Meteorological Department.

The implementation of web-based GIS technology however, enabled IMD to build products that were more interactive, more informative (both analytically and visually), and were available online in near real time mode. Esri ArcGIS offered IMD a platform that had flexibility and comprehensive tools and functionalities to develop applications that could ingest data from satellites, radars, and hydrological resources. Its Web Feature Services (WFS) and WMS services in turn allowed its end users to use geometry and attributes for flexible and quick geospatial analysis.

The real scenario and challenges
It is important to take a look at how IMD deals with the challenges to forecast weather. IMD administers the highway weather monitoring network using a vast set-up of observational data systems. Many of the products generated and posted on the websites were static products that provided Web Map Services (WMS)—basically images of maps with limited attribute information. The products generated used static maps and failed to establish a connect with the geospatial information that the overlaid layer of meteorological parameters was intended for. To develop a comprehensive application that could do spatial analysis, 3D analysis and image analysis, IMD needed to use ArcGIS. “The proposed technology offered ease to build a solution and host it on the web-GIS server. The interactive functionalities offered to the client made the product more appealing and promising. Information can now be obtained on a real-time basis to significantly reduce the time needed to develop such applications,” says Saxena.

Further more, lack of interactive information and reliance on text rather than graphics had become a major factor deterring people from using meteorological products. They could not interpret data easily and make quick travel-related decisions. The department needed an effective, technically-advanced solution that could seamlessly flow display data with analytics and provide information to clients on a real-time basis.

What GIS Solution does?

IMD wanted to replace its existing system with a cutting-edge solution that would:

– Offer GIS compatibility to meteorological data
– Require minimal manual intervention in data collection and interpretation
– Provide more flexibility when dealing with mathematical models
– Help highway travelers make decisions quickly
– Update the spatial database with new data sets regularly
– Provide information for highway repairs and emergencies

Solution deployment
Keeping in mind the fast changing expectation of people, IMD has shifted to web-enabled GIS technology which will make it easier to extract different layers of geospatial and meteorological information. IMD selected Esri for its ArcGIS Server which was equipped with features that would help optimize highway weather forecasts alongside many other applications that it intended to develop. “IMD team and Esri team worked together to implement the solution. The ample effort was put in to synchronize the system with other applications and systems,” adds Saxena.

The GIS server eased accessibility to dynamically changing meteorological parameters. The presentation of mathematical models over DEM represented weather and highway surface conditions.

Precise information available for every geometry and attribute enhanced geospatial analysis. ArcGIS Server helped highway users, tourists, transportation planners and other people to increase safety, save time, and reduce traveling costs.

The results and costs
ArcGIS Server improved highway weather forecasts by providing information to travelers in a timely manner. The GIS-based server supported analysis and interpretation of meteorological data from across the country, catering to different user-interests and enhancing the performance of the weather forecasting department. “While Esri’s ArcGIS Server is one part of the solution, IMD had to made other upgrades in the organizational infrastructure to get most of the benefits. Overall cost of deployment and upgrades cost IMD more than Rs 3 crore. I would like to underline that it was on the overall upgrades and systems and not just ArcGIS,” reveals Saxena.

The implementation introduced high resolution maps with detailed information on the attributes and current meteorological data for seasonal planning (weeks to months), planning horizon (12-48 hours) and tactical operations (0-12 hours). It also introduced rapid updates on severe changes in highway roads (updates for earth quakes, cyclones, or harsh temperatures).

GIS technology provided users with more accurate information. Geo tagged images and spatial database offered them details on weather contours, varying temperature profiles, wind levels, etc.

Benefits of the GIS solution
– Instant decision making
– Life and property protection
– Highway repair and flyover construction activities
– Incident and emergency management
– Automated geo-spatial database management
– Pre-determination of warnings against extreme climatic phenomena, like dust storms, heavy rains, heat waves, etc.

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