Precision forecasting and location-specific weather alerts help you manage dangerous jobsite conditions.
by Jeff Johnson and Dan Buck
October 31, 2013

Earlier in 2013, forecasters were anticipating a severe weather season with conditions favorable for breeding strong storms, but to the surprise of many weather experts, it has been a relatively quiet summer across the country, with few significant weather events.

Looking Back at 2013

As of Oct. 6, only 766 tornadoes had been recorded, a little more than half of the average during the past eight years, and more than 200 less than the number recorded on the same date in 2012. The primary culprit was the chilly spring experienced by much of the country; prime time for tornado formation is April through June, and tornadoes rely on warm, humid air for their formation.

Another big surprise for forecasters this year was a much less active hurricane season. Conditions initially looked favorable for the development of hurricanes, with warm water temperatures in the Atlantic and a lower-than-average wind shear. Experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted between seven and 11 hurricanes. While the number of tropical storms is near or a little above average, the number of hurricanes is down drastically. Eleven storms have been named so far this year (as of Oct. 6), but only two of those storms achieved “minor” hurricane intensity.

Most of the activity for tropical storms has been focused over Mexico and Central America, with little activity venturing northward into the U.S. To date, Tropical Storm Andrea is the only storm that’s made its way to the U.S., with landfall in northern Florida in early June. However, that system brought mostly heavy rain to Florida northeastward up the Eastern Seaboard, while doing little in the way of wind damage. Tropical Storm Karen in early October weakened before reaching the Gulf Coast.

The pattern looks as if it will hold for the remainder of hurricane season. Peak hurricane season is generally from mid-September to mid-October, and storms typically trail off after that. Storms can still occur into November if conditions are ideal, but at press time, the chances of seeing a major hurricane in November were remote.

Mitigating Severe Weather Risks

Even in a year of mild weather, severe weather events can occur. Bad weather can cause work delays, damage to equipment and materials, injury to crew, wasted payroll dollars and destruction of work sites.

Crew safety should be top priority, and weather can cause many dangers to those working onsite. Strong winds and wind gusts have caused many dangers with cranes, wind turbines and other projects reaching high elevations.

Lightning is a concern for crew members working in elevated areas, near explosives and inside heavy machinery. The risk for those working inside heavy machinery isn’t due to metal components; rather, most heavy machinery is tall and not fully enclosed, increasing the risk of conducting electricity and posing danger to the operator.

Inclement weather can cause issues with the quality of the jobsite. Concrete cannot be poured on heavily saturated, muddy ground, and rainfall that occurs while concrete is wet can create divots. Precipitation events can also be costly for heavy equipment operators; equipment needs to be moved to pavement or concrete during heavy rainfall, not left on dirt.

Management must be aware of these weather-related risks when creating crew schedules. Having accurate weather information at their fingertips is essential for keeping crews safe. Being aware of current and forecasted conditions is also key for crew scheduling. Knowing when inclement conditions are expected can help managers avoid weather-related work stoppages.

Highly accurate forecasting allows foremen to keep crews working when weather will not affect a jobsite, so they can meet deadlines, increase profitability and avoid penalties.

With access to professional-grade, location-specific weather forecasts, construction managers can take the mystery out of weather events. By utilizing a weather forecasting solution either on desktop or mobile devices, construction managers can make informed weather-related decisions.

Automated, proactive alerts based on specific forecasting areas can provide peace of mind and increase profitability and efficiency. For example, alerts can be delivered directly to mobile devices when lightning is detected within a pre-defined radius, allowing management to determine when crews should exit tall equipment or heavy machinery. Users can set the alerts that are most important to their operations, such as precipitation, wind gusts or heat index warnings.

With this information, construction site managers can take action to protect operations that are at risk from inclement weather. For example, with an alert of heavy rains in the area, crews can have advance warning to tarp open roofs or materials like cement powder or drywall to prevent water damage. Workers planning to pour concrete can also utilize precipitation alerts and forecasts to determine the best schedule and avoid a re-pour due to rainfall. A lightning warning allows for reconfiguration of an explosive detonation schedule, and lightning all-clear alerts signal that it’s safe for crews to move forward with those plans.

Advance weather alerts can also help protect workers. For example, workers can be alerted of precipitation in advance of flooding, providing opportunity to evacuate before the situation becomes dangerous. Workers in wind turbines can have lightning alerts delivered to their mobile devices, giving them enough time to get safely down tower.

Some weather forecasting solutions offer the ability to obtain forecasts based on GPS location, as opposed to forecasts from a local area observation point. Weather patterns can vary across a metropolitan area, and the weather at the airport may not match what’s happening at a construction site. Mobile alerts also can be set to the device’s GPS location, useful for those who travel to multiple sites throughout the day.

The ability to mitigate the risk of severe weather at a construction site is as strong as the tools one uses to monitor and observe weather conditions. The local forecast in the newspaper or on popular websites can’t provide the level of detail needed for those managing crew safety, tight budgets and timelines. Real-time, location-specific solutions can provide peace of mind and reliability for those responsible for delivering projects safely, on time and within budget.