Alaska foils Mother Nature with an innovative IoT solution

 |   Microsoft IoT

“The Icepocalypse completely blindsided us.” That’s how Dan Schacher, at the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (ADOT&PF), recalls the notorious storm.

Alaskans are well-known for their resilience. But in 2010, the three-day storm called Icepocalypse strained the resources of the ADOT&PF. It began with heavy rainfall paired with unusually warm weather. When the temperature dropped back down below zero, 1,500 miles of roads were turned into rivers of solid ice. It took five months for the ice to melt.

Ordinarily, ADOT&PF station managers used precipitation-based forecast models to decide when and where to deploy resources like snowplows and salt. The atmospheric reading data that’s used to drive those decisions has historically been collected at a few fixed locations. Without data about the ground-level temperature, ADOT&PF had to make critical decisions based solely on an educated guess. “We needed better data to make better decisions,” says Schacher.

So Schacher partnered with IoT solutions provider Fathym, maker of a weather-tracking solution called WeatherCloud. Using mobile sensors placed on the windshields of maintenance vehicles, the WeatherCloud solution tracks road temperature, humidity, precipitation, and even wiper frequency. The sensors use a Bluetooth connection to transmit the data to an app running on a smartphone inside the vehicle. Once the truck is within cellular range, the data is uploaded to Azure IoT Hub in the cloud, where it’s cleaned with Azure Stream Analytics, and stored in Azure Blob Storage and Azure Cosmos DB.

A few years later, Mother Nature unleashed another storm with Icepocalypse potential, putting WeatherCloud to the test. This time Alaska was ready. As freezing rain moved toward Fairbanks, Schacher used the new IoT-based forecasting model to make the right decisions. His team responded to the extreme conditions in a way that was more proactive, more precise, and more efficient. Not only are Alaskan residents safer, Schacher’s organization saves hundreds of thousands of dollars in resources each year.

Head over to the Transform blog to learn how the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities used a Microsoft Azure IoT solution to win the battle for Alaskan roads.

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