As long as there have been drivers, they have been affected by the weather. Whether it’s raining, snowing, windy, or sunny, weather plays a significant role in driving conditions and road safety. Maybe that’s why traffic and weather reports continue to be among the most popular segments for any local radio station.
As the leading traffic provider company in America, Total Traffic & Weather Network (TTWN) is committed to providing accurate, real-time, and reliable weather, news, sports, and traffic reports to nearly 2,000 radio and 200 television affiliates plus automotive, navigation, internet, mobile and government partners. TTWN reaches more than 196 million monthly listeners across more than 200 markets and operates the largest traffic data gathering network, staffed with more than 1,200 traffic reporters.
Flagger Force had the opportunity to interview three TTWN team members, Kevin Loftus, senior vice president of operations, Randy Chepigan, traffic anchor for the Philadelphia market, and Reno Grant, traffic anchor for the Miami market.
Which kind of weather is most hazardous to the drivers in your area?
Randy Chepigan: For the Philadelphia area, it is freezing rain, icy conditions, or ice storms. We have many folks who are very experienced with driving in snow, but even experienced drivers can’t see when ice refreezes after melting overnight.
Reno Grant: In Florida, it’s the rainy season and the hurricane season that runs from June 1st through November 30th. South Florida turns to one of our key affiliates that I traffic anchor for, WIOD, during these kinds of emergency weather situations.
In your part of the country, what’s one thing you want drivers to do to be safer during bad weather?
Randy Chepigan: In bad weather, Philadelphia drivers need to slow down. There are people who go quickly when it’s raining, snowing, or icing, when they should be driving much slower. It’s also important to remind drivers to stay off phones and other tech distractions to pay more attention to the road, especially in bad weather.
Reno Grant: I think the first thing is to be aware of one’s surroundings. Different types of weather can have different types of impacts on traffic. For example, there are two types of rain that we generally see in South Florida. One type is a light misty rain. The other type is torrential rain. When we have heavier rain, people tend to slow down and drive more cautiously, so we’re less likely to see a large number of crashes. But the misty rain brings up the oils and fluids from the roadways and increases the possibility of hydroplaning. People tend to drive at their “normal speed” in this light rain, so we’re more likely to see crashes.
Do you think your listeners want to know where things are backed up or why they’re backed up?
Randy Chepigan: Our listeners want as much information as possible, and that’s what we want, too. Especially when there’s construction blocking a certain lane, and that lane will be blocked for a certain length of time, especially when there’s an unusual delay, like a lane blockage on a major highway for emergency construction during a rush hour. People want to know, “Why is that happening during rush hour?” TTWN works to gather as many details as possible to pass those facts along to drivers.
Reno Grant: Our listeners want to know where the backups are. This distinguishes what we do at TTWN from other traffic providers. We’re doing a traffic report versus an incident report. Say, if there’s a crash along I-95, for example, and there are five miles of delays on the approach, the listeners want to know precisely where the stretch of delays are located so if conditions are severe enough, we can try and reroute them.
How do you work with your local departments of transportation?
Randy Chepigan: We have excellent relationships with the departments of transportation in specifically in my area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. We monitor all of their internet presences and share information. A couple of our part-time employees also work at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) traffic control center. That relationship gives unique insight into how to best share info.
Reno Grant: We share camera resources with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), and they will call us if there is a serious situation on the roads. It’s a great partnership.
In addition to the Department of Transportation, do you have other resources you use to figure out what’s going on?
Randy Chepigan: We get information from a whole bunch of places. We have a camera network of our own. We share the DOT’s cameras. We have cell phone data that’s interpreted to show slow traffic from one point to another, and we still do calls to police and fire agencies throughout the area.
Law enforcement will also contact us, sometimes even the old-fashioned way: via phone. We’ll get a call from a local precinct for an incident at a remote location where we might not have a camera to let us know that a road is closed and to keep people away from it.
Reno Grant: We have access to hundreds of traffic cameras. Some of those are FDOT cameras, some of those are Florida’s Turnpike cameras, and some are from the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority. Those are the three different agencies that manage the major roadways, largely the expressways in South Florida. Of course, there are also things happening on local roads, so we have contacts within many municipal authorities as well.
Kevin Loftus: Across the country, local law enforcement agencies are very important to us. They understand that we’re here to help and are an advocate for them. We want to keep people away from their scene, so that the officers can do their jobs.
If you could have anything you wanted, existing or theoretical, to help you do your job and to anticipate traffic or monitor traffic better, what would it be? What would you want in a dream scenario?
Randy Chepigan: More than anything else, I’d like to see a continuation and refinement of what we already have. Cell phone signal technologies are great, and I look forward to more developments. With the camera networks, more cameras equal more information. As technology advances, it will allow us to get better at helping drivers keep moving and stay safe.
Reno Grant: We rely so heavily on traffic cameras that we always want more cameras. Yes, we have cameras on the expressways and surface streets. If we were able to broaden that out even more, that would be a dream scenario. Traffic cameras are so important.
Kevin Loftus: One of our constant areas of focus is to use the latest technology and partnerships to reduce the detection latency — the time from when an incident occurs to when we get notified and get it out on the air. TTWN has an expansive reach providing traffic information and data to millions of listeners, viewers, and even in-vehicle navigation systems in every market we service — a job we take very seriously. The data share with agencies, enables TTWN to serve the public by alerting drivers of unexpected events on the roads. TTWN is dedicated to deepening the relationships with our agency partners to continue to provide superior content.
You must have a lot of memorable traffic and weather stories. Can you share an especially memorable one with us?
Randy Chepigan: It’s tough to narrow it down. I’ve been doing this for a couple of decades now. We’ve had a lot of snowstorms and hurricanes. We were there during the 36-inch snowfall that hit Philadelphia in the mid-90s. But I’m most proud of how we handled things during the pandemic last year. Although traffic volume was low, we noticed a trend: it seemed that with the lighter volume people were going faster and as a result, we saw far more high-speed crashes.
TTWN increased our advice within our traffic reporting to slow down and be extra cautious, especially on behalf of the essential workers who still had to drive. We also shifted gears during the pandemic and started reporting all the locations of COVID testing sites and traffic at those sites. I’m proud of the additional information we provided to help keep people safe.
Reno Grant: The most unusual weather in Florida, of course, is hurricanes. We had Hurricane Irma in 2017, and I was most proud of how our team at TTWN came together for market-wide live coverage from 6:00 a.m. until midnight, continuously disseminating traffic and weather information to keep people informed and safe. It was one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences I’ve had in the 10 years I’ve been with TTWN.
Flagger Force Thanks Total Traffic & Weather Network
Thanks to the people at TTWN who made these interviews possible, including Reno, Randy, and Kevin, with special thanks to Jennifer Savage for all her hard work.