As the massive snow storm dubbed Nemo moves through the Northeast portion of the United States this weekend, people living within New York City will be able to keep track of the snow levels coating nearby streets using a public Web service called PlowNYC. After the city’s last major blizzard during December 2010, Mayor Bloomberg was criticized for by local politician and residents for failing to react quickly enough to the snowfall and taking far too long to clear certain portions of the city. Bloomberg pushed the PlowNYC initiative forward in response to those critics and the program officially launched during February 2012.
With forecasts of at least a foot of snow being dumped on portions of the NYC this weekend, snowstorm Nemo will be the first large scale test of the PlowNYC system. According to launch data, approximately 1,700 city vehicles and thousands of plow trucks have been equipped with GPS systems.
When all the vehicles are in operation, the system gathers approximately 15,000 data points per minute and plots that data on a map of New York City. As the data is collected, a new version of the map goes live every thirty minutes.
Residents can visit the PlowNYC site and enter their home or work address in order to check the progress of the snow plows in the area. When clicking on a specific street, the map includes the date and time the street was last cleared by a snow plow or salted for safer driving. In addition, residents will be able to view which streets are of higher priority than others using the color coding on the map. While residents can still use the 311 service to request a snow plow service on their road, the priority level for that request is ultimately set by the information found on the PlowNYC site.
During January 2012, Chicago government officials launched a similar service called Plow Tracker. Also using GPS data, residents can view where snow plows are located around the city. In addition, a group called Open City utilizes the same set of data points and incorporates that information into an application called Clear Streets. Using a resident’s address, this application can tell Chicago residents if their street was plowed recently.