Featured Froster: Steve Masalin, Public Works Director, Town of Ledyard, CT
Municipality: Ledyard, CT
Featured Team Members: Steve Masalin, Public Works Director
Ledyard, CT, a coastal New England town near the Rhode Island border, has been a Frost customer since 2021. Steve, who has been working for the Town of Ledyard for 30 years, and his team manage 112 linear miles of road in the town of about 15,000 people.
Frost: Thanks for your willingness to chat with us, Steve! Tell us a little bit about your weather challenges in Ledyard.
Steve Masalin: Being a town near the coast, we have a pretty fickle rain/snow line that is influenced by the Long Island Sound. There are snow events that miss us not too far to the north, and sometimes the jetstream pushes snow down toward us. We have had two record snowfall years since I’ve been here, and although last year was pretty light, in general, we still see some pretty snowy times. Winter weather is a challenge for us, especially being on that line. Having tools that really help us mobilize and demobilize based on that shifting line are really essential.
Frost: So if you think back to when you decided to invest in some Frost units, what was your decision making process like?
Steve: I don’t think we were aware of what was available. We get solicited for all kinds of things, but this was one worth looking at, and that’s because the TV weather stations are not spontaneous or reliable enough to give you the on-the-ground information you need when preparing for or in the midst of an event. We had gone with a paid weather service for a while, and we found that we were relying more on other data we could interpret ourselves from free sources. The state also has a network of stations, but those don’t have the detailed pavement information that is provided by the Frost system. This gives you the kind of data that is spontaneous and dynamic and allows us to control our operations much more efficiently, promptly, and proactively.
Frost: So, after you got your mini-weather stations, where did you decide where to put them? Was it based on that rain/snow line?
Steve: Yes, essentially. The northerly area is colder, of course, so we put two mini-weather stations there to monitor traditionally colder temperatures, north-facing, in valleys. To get a representative sample, we put one in the south, west-facing. This gives us a means to delineate and know how the conditions are shifting–if it is moving down, or west– and helps us figure out what can we expect during an event. With those three stations, we have a good idea of what’s going on and how to direct people accordingly.
Using mini-weather stations
Frost: What data do you use most from your Frost mini-weather station, and how does that influence your decision making?
Steve: The pavement temperature, and the trend of the pavement temperature, is the most critical. You can see not only what exactly is happening, but you get a trendline to predict where things are headed. We use this not only in preparation for a storm, but within and coming out of a storm as well. Each storm is different– some get much colder much more quickly, and some storms warm a bit. That dictates the degree to which we treat.
Frost: Do you use the data to adjust labor hours, routes, application rates, or all three?
Steve: When it’s a bit warmer, we would direct our team to dial back on treatment levels, in this case. You wouldn’t need as much salt or as much residual to hold things in place. That makes a big difference. The timing of cleanup also gets adjusted, for example, the temperatures have come up enough that we can dial back salting, or hold off on salting and just focus on cleanup.
Within the storm, it may be a need to get out and retreat because something has changed. Before a storm, it’s important to know when to mobilize and get material on the surface in advance of conditions deteriorating, temperature-wise, on the surface. We watch those trends to know whether it’s time to add material. Sometimes you could do it too early; treatment dilutes and you lose effectiveness and waste material.
Frost: What are some other ways you use your units?
Steve: One other situation we use the mini-weather stations for, which is not necessarily precipitation-based, has to do with the humidity. When you have frost in the ground, even at temperatures above freezing, with high humidity, you frequently get black ice. Those are situations where without these sensors, you’re waiting for someone to call you and tell you things are starting to freeze up. At that point, you’re behind.
Frost: Obviously you’ve been doing this a long time, so how did you do this before you had Frost units?
Steve: When I first took over, it was always “wait for the call from dispatch,” which was informed by the police. That was the case even when snow was on the road. We realized that we needed to get underneath the precipitation. We needed to get out ahead of it. We got more proactive and stopped waiting for the police to call and tell us conditions are unsafe. At that point, you have 110 miles of road and you are way behind the 8-ball and leaving people vulnerable. That’s tough sometimes; we want to time our treatment in advance of the precipitation to be most effective, so we would stage the crew. Sometimes the forecast was so off, we would be waiting 3-4 hours before anyone even went out. This is a tool that has helped alleviate that.
Getting stakeholder buy-in
Frost: Walk us through how you get buy-in for the units from your stakeholders.
Steve: It wasn’t hard to get a five year contract approved by the council [this year]. I don’t find the value to be an issue for the benefit we get from it. There have been particular events where we have been able to communicate to the mayor and the town council that these units have saved us time and money. There will be times where it is evident. Using the data in the right ways will give you anecdotes to talk about how they really made a difference in a particular event. It is one of those Catch-22s where if you use it to get ahead of unsafe conditions and everything is fine, it’s hard to say you saved the town from accidents because there weren’t any accidents.
Frost: It’s one of those things where no one knows it’s a problem until it’s a problem.
Steve: That’s exactly right. So, it’s always good to share along the way after the storm. I typically share those stories via email. Of course with leadership changes with election cycles, you may need to do some re-education, but after some time it’s part of your normal operations and I’m not selling it any longer, it’s just what we do.
The future with Frost
Frost: Anything else you wish the Frost system did? Wish list items?
Steve: Nothing in particular. I know you are making upgrades already and advancing its capabilities. More and more it’s becoming a one-stop warning system in addition to the data collection and tracking.
Frost: What other insights do you have for municipalities that may be considering an investment in Frost units?
Steve: I would start to think about representative locations that would make this data most effective. There’s a bit of an art and a science to getting them properly located. We kind of knew based on historical incidents where those were for us, but you don’t need to have one on every street to make this work.