Finnish SnowHow is Second to None

Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

As Helsinki is covered in snow and minus temperatures and wind chills take over around Finland, a group of experts aims to tackle the harsh winter conditions and automated transportation. Aside from being known as a pioneering nation in the field education, Finland is an expert in living and dealing with cold weather and snow.

In the Arctic Challenge research project, initiated by the Finnish Transport Agency and the Finnish Transport Safety Agency, Finnish companies set out to solve problems relating to automated road traffic in winter and Nordic conditions. “In the north, the year-round performance ability of automated vehicles highly depends on how these vehicles manage in winter conditions. The reliability of sensors and the intelligence of automated vehicles are really put to the test, especially when it comes to positioning in snowy weather and on ice-covered road surfaces,” said Ilkka Kotilainen, project manager at the Finnish Transport Agency. “When studying the challenges posed to automation by winter conditions, we Finns are on home ground, and in this research project we have the opportunity to present our know-how in an international context,” said Anna Schirokoff, leading specialist at the Finnish Transport Safety Agency.

According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the very first snowflakes fall to the ground in late August or early September over the high peaks in Lapland. The first ground-covering snow and permanent snow blankets arrive at different times in different parts of the country. In Lapland, the winter lasts longer (approximately seven months), and the permanent snow cover comes significantly earlier than in southern Finland.

Clickable Advertisement

Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Implications for society can be large given a lack of knowledge, preparation and ability to cope with snow and ice. In many parts of the United States, where road accidents, school shutdowns, delays and general chaos reign in the face of snowstorms and blizzards, Finland remains largely ready for overwhelming flurries, ice and an abundance of snow.

At the Finnish Meteorological Institute, a road weather model was developed to forecast specific road weather parameters, such as road surface temperature and road condition. Road conditions classify road surfaces into different categories: dry, damp, wet, or being covered by snow, ice or frost. The road condition interpretation is based on various storage terms, which describe the amount of water, snow, ice and frost on the surface. The model constantly tracks changes in these storages caused by melting, freezing, evaporation, condensation and mechanical wear.

The road weather model is a tool for meteorologists when delivering road weather forecasts or warnings of bad or very bad driving conditions. Also, the road upkeep personnel may use the model output as background information when planning and scheduling road maintenance.

Airports, too, are a point of interest in Finland’s efficiency. Finnish airports boast 24 hours a day, year-round operational runways, optimizing efficiency in even the harshest winter conditions. According to Finavia, the national airport operator, preparation is a key factor in success. High-tech sensors monitoring runway temperature are designed to note even the smallest of changes in degrees. And of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an army of snow plows, sweepers and snow blowers.

Veli-Pekka Pitkänen, Finavia’s northern Finland director has previously said, “On a global scale, Finnish ‘SnowHow’ truly is second to none. Even though other countries with hard winters, like Canada and the United States, have much longer traditions in air traffic than Finland does, we regularly host industry experts keen to learn winter maintenance skills from us.”