Avoiding needless gritting without compromising safety

ASK THE EXPERT: Richard Stedall, Road Account Manager at the Met Office, explains all

 When cold weather sets in, how can I save time and money by ensuring that paved surfaces around the campus are treated only when necessary, avoiding needless gritting without compromising safety? 

Whether you treat walkways and car parks yourself or hire a contractor, ensuring the safety of staff, students and visitors is essential. At the same time, unnecessary gritting costs time and money.

It can be very tricky to forecast temperatures, and it can be misleading to try to use air temperatures – like the ones you will see on the TV or hear on the radio – to make gritting decisions as the relationship between air temperature and road surface temperature changes daily.

To put this in context, on a cold morning, you can often see frost on the grass or cars, but not on the road. This is because many factors affect just how cold temperatures will become overnight – and the temperature of the air, road, grass, and your car windscreen can all be different – even in the same location.

‘Whether you treat walkways and car parks yourself or hire a contractor, ensuring the safety of staff, students and visitors is essential. At the same time, unnecessary gritting costs time and money’

One factor that can make a huge difference to overnight temperatures is cloud. On a very cloudy night road surface temperatures are very similar to the air temperature. During the day, cloud stops the sun’s rays reaching the earth’s surface, generally resulting in a lower temperature. At night it works a little differently as cloud absorbs some of the heat radiated from the ground and then re-radiates it back downwards keeping the ground warm. In that way, cloud acts a little like a blanket, stopping heat escaping.

For the most accurate advice, I recommend universities try the Met Office’s OpenSite (a site-specific, road-surface temperature forecast). This will help you conserve valuable resources and improve safety. OpenSite helps you to be confident in your decision making. We also have a Quality Mark scheme which is our seal of approval to provide you with confidence in the forecast accuracy and meteorological understanding of winter gritting contractors.

To find out how we can help you, email openroad@metoffice.gov.uk

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