London was not prepared well enough to tackle the snowfall in February, a new report has revealed. Despite weather warnings suggesting extreme conditions, transport agencies failed to act fast enough to mobilise resources across the capital to reduce potential disruptions in transport. However how reliable are weather forecasts? There is an argument to suggest that we can never be prepared for potential changes in the weather. Take the example of the Great Storm of 1987. Weather forecasts underestimated the size of the storm resulting in severe damage to parts of the UK. However evidence put forward indicates that the forecasters weren’t entirely to blame and a lack of technology meant that the true extent of the weather could not have been physically estimated. The key word here is technology. With advancements in technology, warning systems are now in place to pre-empt potential natural disasters, within reason.Â
Bringing this argument into the context of forecasting traffic conditions and one can see that along with the differences, there are many areas in which one could point out likenesses. For example if we know a particular location is busy at 5pm every Saturday whereas another location is normally empty at the same time, the second location is going to be a better bet in terms of a) an easy journey to get there and b) an easy time to find parking spaces due to the low visitation. Yes, one is not yet at a position where we can predict that this will be the case every single Saturday; however one can make a calculated judgement that this is likely to be the case. Indeed it is still better than not having the traffic knowledge of that location in advance; in which case the most one can do is hazard a guess at what it is likely to be like. For example, imagine a weather forecaster stating, “Well I’ve not got any particular evidence to state this but I reckon there’s going to be a blizzard in the next day or so.”
Compare this to, “For the last 6 weeks, at 5pm on Saturday there’s been heavy snowfall and there’s no evidence to suggest this is going to change.” Now the main difference between predicting weather and traffic is season – of differing nature. Weather is typically based upon the time of the year – although with the impact of global warming, this is likely to change, if it hasn’t already. With traffic, there are other conditions such as school holidays, retail store sales, football and other major events. As a result there are different factors to consider. However, taking the example of a school holiday, if a particular stretch of the motorway is always busy during the first day of the Xmas break at a certain time, compared with another which has no traffic at the same time, and this has been the case for the last 2-3 years, there is a strong possibility that this will be the case, pending no major incidents around this area have occurred, for the coming year. Similarly, if a particular railway station has 20 cars parked every single working day of the week, and this has been the case for the last 6 weeks, including any school holidays in between, the next week you can pretty much predict that those same 20 cars will be there, and further analyse that these are most probably commuters working their same journey every day. If the car park allocation is 22, you’d probably risk going and parking if required, whereas is the limit is 20 you can most probably forget about it!
Accessing real-time cameras and seeing traffic conditions as they are is a good step forward in planning journeys more effectively. With advancements in technology not only will we get an even better picture, but perhaps we will be in a position to predict traffic trends far more accurately.
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