BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Snow that blows and drifts across roadways has
long troubled road maintenance crews and commuters alike, creating
treacherous driving conditions and requiring additional maintenance
resources to mitigate the problem.
Now, a University at Buffalo engineer has led the development of
"SnowMan," a user-friendly, desktop software package that puts
cost-effective solutions to the snow drift problem at the
fingertips of highway designers and road maintenance personnel.
"SnowMan" helps transportation engineers design roadways that
are less likely to be plagued by snow drifts; it also allows
maintenance personnel to more precisely situate snow fences in
order to reduce drifting on existing roadways.
Stuart Chen, Ph.D., professor of civil, structural and
environmental engineering, designed "SnowMan" with former UB
graduate student Michael Lamanna. Chen unveiled the software this
month at the annual conference of the National Academy of Sciences'
Transportation Research Board in Washington, D.C. They developed
"SnowMan" with assistance from Darrell Kaminski, regional design
engineer for the Western New York region of the New York State
Department of Transportation and Ronald Tabler of Tabler and
Associates, Niwot, Colorado.
Funded, designed and implemented for the NYSDOT, the
computer-aided design software is completely adaptable to wherever
blowing and drifting snow is a problem.
"The NYSDOT believes that the SnowMan software will
significantly advance the implementation of passive snow-control
measures both within New York State and nationwide," said Joseph F.
Doherty, senior civil engineer, operations division, NYSDOT,
Albany. "It provides an important tool that will facilitate
designers' use of decades of research, by Ronald Tabler and others,
in the field of blowing snow control.
"We expect improvements in highway safety, lower winter
maintenance costs and reduced impacts on the environment as a
To mitigate the problems that blowing and drifting snow create,
road maintenance crews or contractors will erect snow fences,
temporary or permanent barriers made of plastic or wood, along
roads where drifting typically occurs.
According to Chen, snow fences serve as a physical means of
"interrupting" the blowing and drifting of snow.
"Wind carries particles of snow along just the way that a river
will carry silt and mud," he explained. "Snow fences introduce
turbulence that causes the wind to deposit some of the snow
particles it has been carrying onto the ground behind the snow
fence, leaving the roadway clear."
But deciding how to configure and place those snow fences is not
an exact science, Chen said.
"Snow fences are typically erected according to general
knowledge about an area where blowing and drifting occurs," said
NYSDOT's Kaminski, Chen's co-author on the SnowMan research paper
and an alumnus of the UB School of Engineering and Applied
"Fences are typically a standard height and are placed a certain
number of feet from a roadway," he said.
A more precise approach would require maintenance personnel to
obtain climate data for an area to determine how much snow and wind
that area experiences in a season and then to run a series of
calculations to determine the best height and placement for a fence
in that location.
The big advantage of SnowMan, Chen explained, is that it
provides all of these capabilities to the user automatically,
whether the goal is to mitigate a specific blowing and drifting
problem or to design a new roadway that minimizes blowing and
The software is based on a combination of knowledge about the
fluid mechanics principles that underlie how snow blows and drifts,
with fieldwork done by Tabler, a snow and wind engineering
consultant, on the characteristics of blowing and drifting
"SnowMan allows users to analyze different types and heights of
virtual snow fences in a variety of distances from a given roadway
so that it is possible to come up with the best solution for a
specific site and climate," said Chen.
The software includes climatological data about seasonal
snowfall and wind velocities for most regions throughout New York
"For the first time, it allows us to be precise about where to
put snow fences," said Chen.
Chen's work on SnowMan is part of a growing transportation
engineering research emphasis at UB, which is based on the
university's well-established and internationally renowned
strengths in civil and structural engineering, particularly in the
physical protection of transportation infrastructure.
UB's transportation research focuses on improving traffic flow
and developing intelligent transportation systems, in which
information technologies are used to better manage transportation;
developing technologies that promote more efficient, safe travel
during inclement weather, particularly during upstate New York's
harsh winters; and developing collision-avoidance sensors for
roads, bridges and vehicles, and more integrated land-use and
infrastructure management, funding and planning.
Founded in 1946, the UB School of Engineering and Applied
Sciences has 150 faculty members and an enrollment of more than
2,300 students. UB Engineering offers undergraduate and graduate
degree programs in six departments. The school's annual research
expenditures are approximately $50 million; its per-faculty
research expenditure puts it in the top 10 percent of U.S.
engineering schools, according to data from the National Science
Foundation. UB Engineering works with corporate partners in a
variety of ways ranging from joint research ventures, to continuing
education, to co-op work arrangements for students.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.