NOAA Researchers Are Working to Make Traveling in Winter Weather Safer


Forecasters are good at predicting large winter storms, but even mild winter weather can be dangerous for travelers.

Trying to travel in the midst of winter weather can be inconvenient at best and dangerous — even deadly — at worst. Snow, freezing rain and black ice can snarl traffic and delay flights, and can also lead to accidents and traffic fatalities.

A team of scientists at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory and National Weather Service is working on ways to better forecast potentially dangerous winter weather to cut down on these impacts to travelers. Heather Reeves, a researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS) supporting NSSL, said the project is focusing on the smaller or more short-lived weather hazards — not the big, “snowmageddon” type storms.

“We have gotten really good at predicting when a big event is going to happen and what regions it will impact,” said Reeves, who is leading the research. “The real danger now are these events where people don’t have to stay inside. They can still go out and live their lives, but there may be moments where they need to exercise caution.”

Reeves’ research, which is supported by funding from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and NOAA, is focused on two modes of travel: car and airline. With car travel, a small amount of freezing precipitation isn’t likely to prompt drivers to stay off the roads. But the black ice that freezing precipitation can cause is a big safety problem, leading in some cases to car accidents and fatalities.

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