New sensors will alert road commissions to ice and snow across West Michigan

Posted at 5:11 PM, Oct 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-31 17:12:02-04

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — With Ottawa County’s fluctuations in winter weather, Ryan Kemppainen would like to know where bad road conditions develop without the need to drive to a trouble spot to find out.

After all, he has 1,700 miles of roads to worry about. Kemppainen is operations superintendent for the Ottawa County Road Commission.

A pilot program of frost sensors might be just what Kemppainen needs.

“You might have a day where one part of the county we might have some lake effect snow going through and looks like the road temperatures are getting colder,” he speculates. “And instead of trying to drive out to these locations and check on them, you can look at these sensors and kind of have an idea what's going on.”

Ottawa County now has 22 places where sensors have been placed on 12-foot-tall posts. Four of the locations additionally have cameras.

Each unit delivers data via cell signal. “They monitor the road temperature, which is very vital to our operations in the winter, air temp, dew point, and humidity,” Kemppainen explains. “With weather, we know that when the temperature is below freezing, and dew point and air temp converge, in a lot of times that tells us it's snowing.”

Ottawa County is noted for its lake effect snow that can hammer roads in the far western parts of the county but leave the eastern end of the county unchanged. That was taken in consideration when the decisions were made on where the sensors were placed. Some are located on freeways. Others are at such places as the Bascule Bridge in Grand Haven or at the intersection of Baldwin Street and Main Street in Jenison.

For now, the sensors are not permanent.

"Right now, it's a pilot program. We're going to try these out for the next three years and we'll go from there,” Kemppainen said.

Both Kent and Muskegon counties also have the new sensors, and all three county road commissions plan on sharing the data.