Learn how each option can protect employees & improve project timelines
by Rei Goffer
April 23, 2018

Every construction company, especially those operating in the North, has experienced the excruciating pain of having bad weather conditions add costs to a project. As a manager at a construction company, what can you do about it? Some companies rely on weather data they get from local news forecasts, free weather apps and websites to help them determine when the weather will be a factor. While this works in many cases, there are some cases in which paying for more accurate weather data may be easily justified by the costs that could be saved. So, when do you know it is time to look beyond the free sources?

First, let’s talk a bit about the type of weather that can delay a project or, at least, increase the costs. Some of these might seem obvious to those working in construction, but they are laid out below for the purpose of analysis.

Freezing Temperatures

When temperatures dip below a certain point, it can make everything more difficult or more expensive at a site. First off, many machines do not work as well or at all in the extreme cold. In addition, sometimes you cannot pour concrete because it will crack, or you cannot use certain adhesives that have manufacturer’s guidelines advising that you avoid use in specific temperatures.

Cold temperatures can even make the blue water in your portable toilets freeze, which is never fun. Some companies may also incur extra costs by keeping their workers warm with heaters or some form of shelter. Ultimately, work days are often
cancelled because of the cold, and when they are not, the work is usually more expensive or completed at a slower pace.

Precipitation

Rain, freezing rain and snow can also wreak havoc on a construction site. All of these forms of precipitation can affect working on scaffolding or roofs, change decisions about roof openings, determine whether you pour cement and may interfere with many other tasks.

The key to how much a storm will affect your work day is knowing which kind of precipitation will fall, because rain, freezing rain and snow will all have different effects on your projects and processes.

Wind

Like precipitation, high winds can affect workers on scaffolding and roofs or operating heavy machinery on the jobsite.

Construction managers have to make decisions about whether they should wait until the wind dies down or risk moving forward in the wind, putting the safety of their employees at risk.

Lightning

Lightning is an obvious safety issue for construction workers more than almost any other. Lightning is one of the most difficult weather conditions to predict, but it is definitely one that can put a temporary halt to a project.

These are some of the obvious offenders when it comes to weather conditions that affect a construction project. There are many more beyond this, such as extreme heat or severe weather (flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.), but the above four are the ones that construction managers need to think about the most. So, when is it safer to rely on local forecasts or free apps, and when should you consider pursuing deeper measures? Based on conversations with construction companies and observations from being in the weather industry, you can find your answer by dividing the problem into two categories:

  1. Types of weather
  2. Project costs

1. Types of Weather

Different projects are more vulnerable to different weather conditions based on their location, the time of year and the type of project. A construction company working on a project in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the summer will worry more about the chance of heavy winds, rain and lightning than freezing temperatures.

Because of this, every construction company should think about the types of weather that could add costs to each project or affect projects throughout the year to help determine which weather sources to use. If you are mostly worried about temperature, then local weather forecasts, free apps and websites may be all that you need. These sources tend to be close enough to the ground truth to provide enough direction. Once you need data about precipitation timing and the type that will fall, you might need to start using paid weather solutions, as they tend to offer deeper analysis.

An example of when free weather services missed the mark with precipitation predictions was around a snow event in Chicago in February. Free weather sources predicted that snow would fall at noon in Chicago neighborhoods near the airport, when, in reality, it did not fall until 3:00 p.m. This caused the unnecessary cancellation of many flights at O’Hare International Airport and may have caused construction crews to cancel some work, when they could have worked through 3 p.m. in dry conditions. Paid sources were much closer to predicting the start time and delivered a more accurate depiction of the real-time precipitation falling, which could have prevented unnecessary cancellations.

Wind and lightning are conditions that are also difficult to track with free sources. Paid sources can give you more accurate alerts (by email or text) each time lightning strikes within a certain distance of your jobsite and can provide better guidance about the chance of high winds.

Ultimately, if temperature fluctuations are your main focus, there is no need to spend money on paid sources, but if precipitation, wind and lightning are bigger concerns, you might consider looking into some.

2. Project costs

The other factor determining whether you need to invest in weather solutions is the cost of your projects. Rather than looking at the overall cost, look at the costs associated with delaying a day.

One construction company knew that every day that they delayed a specific project would cost them $4,000. Having accurate weather data will not prevent you from delays, but if it can prevent even one day of delays, it can be worth it.

Paid weather solutions vary widely in cost and can be anywhere from $2,000 to over $100,000 per year, so if you are going to lose thousands due to weather, you might consider paying to gain access to deeper data.

As a construction company, you should look for a weather resource that is good at hyperlocal weather and precipitation tracking. Many weather companies rely on the same government data from radars that might be good at seeing weather high in the clouds, but not as good at sensing ground-level weather, which is what matters most to a construction jobsite.

Make sure your provider uses sources of weather data that provide good ground-level readings. You also want to look for a solution that provides hands-on service from real meteorologists. If it is not the right time for you to make the jump to paid services, there are many great free apps and local weather teams that provide weather information.