SEAFORTH, Ontario — Huron Perth Student Transportation Services recently dealt with snow, hail, freezing rain and rain — and that was just in one day.
With a service area of about 5,500 square kilometers (about 2,120 square miles) along the banks of the massive Lake Huron, weather variations are an influential factor in the daily operations of the Seaforth-based transportation consortium.
Even as he spoke with School Bus Fleet during an interview in late February, Huron Perth General Manager David Frier was getting a flurry of electronic updates on weather changes in the region.
Access to accurate meteorological information has proven to be so critical to Huron Perth that the transportation consortium has installed its own weather stations at bus yards across two counties. The stations, supplied by Schneider Electric, have helped fill the gaps in the weather data from Environment Canada that Huron Perth had been relying on — and had often found to be far different from actual conditions.
Huron Perth Student Transportation Services is a consortium of two school systems: the Avon Maitland District School Board and the Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board. Five contractors operate 343 school buses for the consortium, transporting about 12,500 students per day in the Huron and Perth counties.
The five contractors have a total of 10 bus yards throughout the region, and temperature and weather conditions can vary significantly from one location to the next. Also, some of the bus yards are far from the nearest official forecast stations.
“We were noticing some variations from what Environment Canada was giving us for each of those areas and what we were actually seeing on the ground,” Frier said.
As an example, one day the official report said it was minus 20 Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit), but the school bus operators were seeing minus 32 Celsius (minus 26 Fahrenheit) on their thermometers.
Huron Perth Student Transportation Services worked with Schneider Electric to install weather stations at the bus operators’ facilities, starting with five stations in the summer of 2014 and adding another four last summer.
Sherri Carstens, senior weather sales consultant for Schneider Electric, said that the weather data from those stations feeds into an online platform that Frier and the bus operators can access from their computers or mobile devices, and they can have customized alerts sent to them. The localized readings, taken by professional-grade sensors, include temperature, precipitation, heat/humidity and wind speed.
Those stats help transportation and school officials make determinations about bus service and school closures.
“I provide information to the school boards when they're considering whether to keep schools open or closed," Frier said. "I don’t make the decision to close schools, but I make the decision with operators about whether to run [the buses] that day or not.”
One of those operators is Murphy Bus Lines, whose Rob Murphy introduced Huron Perth to Schneider Electric's WeatherSentry Online forecasts.
"Living between the Great Lakes of Ontario, we deal with fog, snow and freezing rain, and the assistance of WeatherSentry forecasts is very valuable as we are transporting precious cargo," Murphy said.
The precise weather data is particularly vital in the winter — when frigid temperatures can cause diesel to gel, or strong wind combined with falling snow can create whiteouts — but it’s also essential for other times of the year when heavy fog can threaten visibility.
“We rely on it year-round,” Frier said. “In the early morning, we’ll assess whether to run the buses, or to go on a delay. The additional information and the quality of the information from the weather stations is helping us to make those calls.”