Optimization of Snow Drifting Mitigation and Control Methods for Iowa Conditions
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Optimization of Snow Drifting Mitigation and Control Methods for Iowa Conditions

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    Blowing and drifting of snow is a major concern for transportation efficiency and road safety in regions where their development is common. One common way to mitigate snow drift on roadways is to install plastic snow fences. Correct design of snow fences is critical for road safety and maintaining the roads open during winter in the US Midwest and other states affected by large snow events during the winter season and to maintain costs related to accumulation of snow on the roads and repair of roads to minimum levels. Of critical importance for road safety is the protection against snow drifting in regions with narrow rights of way, where standard fences cannot be deployed at the recommended distance from the road. Designing snow fences requires sound engineering judgment and a thorough evaluation of the potential for snow blowing and drifting at the construction site. The evaluation includes site-specific design parameters typically obtained with semi-empirical relations characterizing the local transport conditions. Among the critical parameters involved in fence design and assessment of their post-construction efficiency is the quantification of the snow accumulation at fence sites. The present study proposes a joint experimental and numerical approach to monitor snow deposits around snow fences, quantitatively estimate snow deposits in the field, asses the efficiency and improve the design of snow fences. Snow deposit profiles were mapped using GPS based real-time kinematic surveys (RTK) conducted at the monitored field site during and after snow storms. The monitored site allowed testing different snow fence designs under close to identical conditions over four winter seasons. The study also discusses the detailed monitoring system and analysis of weather forecast and meteorological conditions at the monitored sites. A main goal of the present study was to assess the performance of lightweight plastic snow fences with a lower porosity than the typical 50% porosity used in standard designs of such fences. The field data collected during the first winter was used to identify the best design for snow fences with a porosity of 50%. Flow fields obtained from numerical simulations showed that the fence design that worked the best during the first winter induced the formation of an elongated area of small velocity magnitude close to the ground. This information was used to identify other candidates for optimum design of fences with a lower porosity. Two of the designs with a fence porosity of 30% that were found to perform well based on results of numerical simulations were tested in the field during the second winter along with the best performing design for fences with a porosity of 50%. Field data showed that the length of the snow deposit away from the fence was reduced by about 30% for the two proposed lower-porosity (30%) fence designs compared to the best design identified for fences with a porosity of 50%. Moreover, one of the lower-porosity designs tested in the field showed no significant snow deposition within the bottom gap region beneath the fence. Thus, a major outcome of this study is to recommend using plastic snow fences with a porosity of 30%. It is expected that this lower-porosity design will continue to work well for even more severe snow events or for successive snow events occurring during the same winter. The approach advocated in the present study allowed making general recommendations for optimizing the design of lower-porosity plastic snow fences. This approach can be extended to improve the design of other types of snow fences. Some preliminary work for living snow fences is also discussed. Another major contribution of this study is to propose, develop protocols and test a novel technique based on close range photogrammetry (CRP) to quantify the snow deposits trapped snow fences. As image data can be acquired continuously, the time evolution of the volume of snow retained by a snow fence during a storm or during a whole winter season can, in principle, be obtained. Moreover, CRP is a non-intrusive method that eliminates the need to perform man-made measurements during the storms, which are difficult and sometimes dangerous to perform. Presently, there is lots of empiricism in the design of snow fences due to lack of data on fence storage capacity on how snow deposits change with the fence design and snow storm characteristics and in the estimation of the main parameters used by the state DOTs to design snow fences at a given site. The availability of such information from CRP measurements should provide critical data for the evaluation of the performance of a certain snow fence design that is tested by the IDOT. As part of the present study, the novel CRP method is tested at several sites. The present study also discusses some attempts and preliminary work to determine the snow relocation coefficient which is one of the main variables that has to be estimated by IDOT engineers when using the standard snow fence design software (Snow Drift Profiler, Tabler, 2006). Our analysis showed that standard empirical formulas did not produce reasonable values when applied at the Iowa test sites monitored as part of the present study and that simple methods to estimate this variable are not reliable. The present study makes recommendations for the development of a new methodology based on Large Scale Particle Image Velocimetry that can directly measure the snow drift fluxes and the amount of snow relocated by the fence.
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