Frost sensors help keep West Michigan county roads safe this winter

Frost sensor technology in Muskegon County. 

Too much frosting is a good thing when you’re icing a cake, but frosty conditions on roads can be a recipe for disaster. With dropping temperatures and drivers’ safety on their minds, county road workers would like to keep these conditions to a minimum. Frost sensors can help do just that.

Parts of Michigan can receive dozens of inches of snowfall yearly. And to prepare for that [sometimes] fluffy white stuff, Muskegon, Ottawa and Kent counties are enlisting a new force to help – frost sensors.

The utility pole-mounted sensors monitor air temperature, road temperature, dewpoint and humidity, and send out data packages every 20 minutes. From there, cloud-based software organizes the data and sends alerts and display charts to road agencies. With the information provided, county road agencies can send their plow and salt truck drivers to where they are needed the most.

Muskegon County Road Commission (MCRC) is using its mapping program, WEBMDSS, to pull other mapping data from cameras set up by MDOT to get the best and most accurate data for snowfall. MCRC is using their experience to help neighboring Ottawa and Kent counties as well.

“All of us road commissions are a big family,” Drew Nichols, maintenance superintendent at MCRC, said. “Everyone does something different and we’re always sharing thoughts and comparing notes to see who’s coming up with the next idea.”

Ottawa County Road Commission (OCRC) has 24 sensors total and is working on improving those they have. With the improvements, they will be able to take photos of the road every 20 minutes once the road temperature is below 45 degrees.

“With the sensors, we have the ability to see what’s going on across the county,” Ryan Kemppainen, OCRC operations superintendent, said. “A couple degrees in the winter when the temperature is hovering around freezing can make a big difference in winter maintenance.”
Using the new sensors, MCRC and OCRC are able to save on both operational and material costs while still prioritizing the safety of county residents.

“Expectations increase year to year,” Kemppainen said. “This system helps us react to winter maintenance at a faster pace for the motoring public. Monitoring these elements is a great tool, and as time goes on, the technology will only improve and help us more.”

With frost sensors on their team, county road agencies can have peace of mind by better serving their communities and improving the driving conditions for residents.

Learn more about frost sensors in the Fall 2020 issue of Crossroads magazine, the quarterly journal of the County Road Association (CRA) of Michigan, which can be viewed digitally or downloaded at