COVID-19 impacts weather forecasts

January 26, 2021

Accurate weather forecasts are crucial for delivering a timely and effective gritting service, but the impact of COVID-19 has reduced the reliability of predictions requiring GP teams to be extra vigilant.

The precision of the weather forecast relies on meteorological observations, many of which are reported by aircraft, but according to Geophysical Research Letters  the COVID-19 pandemic has eliminated 50-75% of this data.

What’s more, the report written in July, predicted that with extended lockdowns it was likely that the dependability of weather forecasts would deteriorate further.

GP Plantscape have been providing a gritting and snow clearing service for almost 20 years, subscribing to Met Office Open Road forecasting which provides site specific road forecasts for gritting contactors.

Workplaces including, hospitals, distribution centres, office buildings, factories, and shopping centres, rely on GP Plantscape to make sure staff and visitors can gain safe access.

Please pass on our sincere thanks to G P Plantscape on the sterling service they provided/are providing at Canderside throughout the night and this morning snow clearing and gritting the site which has ensured deliveries and staff have been able to come and go from the site as normal. Their efforts are hugely appreciated.’ George Sinclair, estates officer, National Services Scotland

However, weather forecasting is notoriously difficult and this winter season it has proven more variable forcing the winter team to adjust the provision.

Andrew Bell, Exterior Operations Manager, said: “There have been occasions when we have had staff out to cover for poor weather that didn’t arrive or snow falling when it hadn’t been predicted, so we are constantly monitoring the weather and have teams standing by to work at short notice.

“It’s been even more tricky because the weather has been so cold over the past six weeks and with many of our customers working from home, we have had to work extra hard to inspect site conditions regularly and feed that back to our clients.”

Lying snow and low temperatures created treacherous conditions, with compact surfaces more problematic to clear if left unattended between visits.

Normally, customers sites would have a gritting visit in the early hours of the morning in preparation for the arrival of staff, but GP Plantscape have been providing  an additional pre-grit visit, early in the evening,  to customers if they request an extra visit.

COVID-19 effects don’t stop here.

The effectiveness of salt on road surfaces is greatly increased by the traction of vehicles on the road surface, but with more people working from home, there is a reduction in site traffic and GP teams have had to reassess gritting schedules to tackle weather conditions.

The exterior operations manager explained that when the temperature falls below -12 degrees centigrade, white rock salt becomes ineffective as the salts melting action slows as the temperature drops.

Andrew Bell said: “When it becomes hard packed, the snow becomes much more difficult to move if left for 24 hours and it also becomes a challenge to see the hard packed ice if more snow falls on top.”

He said: “In recent, extreme conditions, we have had to use a small amount of red salt which is a bit more aggressive, provides better traction for the tractors and when the tyres grip the ice it starts to break up the ice.”


With this cold snap and lockdown look set to continue in the short term, it seems GP’s winter services will be relied upon to ensure that operations and services can continue to run unhampered by the effects of the weather.

A huge thank you to you and your team for clearing the UHW (University Hospital Wishaw) site overnight and being able to have the site safe this morning for staff to gain access to the car parks and the buildings.  Bruce Shepherd, assistant contracts manager, NHS.

For more information on GP Plantscape’s winter services click here.