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Comparison of 511 websites: NE, MN, IA

December 12, 2010

The Midwest just got a storm nasty enough to postpone a football game between Minnesota and New York (!).

Travel in eastern Nebraska, southern Minnesota and Iowa is not so good at the moment (shortly before midnight Mountain Time on December 11). I took the opportunity to capture screen shots of the three states’ 511 travel information sites.

I know and love the Iowa DOT’s 511 road condition website. I found it to be quite accurate during my years of driving from central Iowa to Minnesota and Illinois.

I decided to pit it head-to-head with the Nebraska and Minnesota websites. I decided to pick on these states because I’ve done a lot of driving through them.

For Nebraska, I chose the unofficial “beta” version, which includes more layers and is Google-map-linked.

Green = normal, yellow = caution, pink = extreme caution

I hate that the Nebraska site uses pink for the highest alert level that the state seems willing to use. There are a couple of red boxes indicating that there are road closures, but the roads have not been changed to red for “closed.” Pink does not feel dangerous, but I’m betting some roads are non-navigable in this image.

If you click (or attempt to click while the screen jumps around) on the message board near the closed road, you’ll find the following message: “white out ahead” “travel not advised” “plows pulled off.”

When the plows have thrown in the towel, you do not want to be on the road. Yet the road is pink, not red?

There is also a message connected to a yellow-and-green “R” that says the following: “Travel thru this area is not recommended. multiple accidents, vehicles off roadway.”

Sounds pretty nasty.

But other “R”s in the pink area just say “snow and ice on road.” That doesn’t sound so bad.

Go to another R, and you get wind speed and direction information. Another says “white out.” Another contains nothing but a disclaimer that road conditions may not match the report.

For cripes sake, can we get a little consistency here?

It’s great that I have the ability to read the message boards and the “R” messages, but I wish this could all be communicated more simply, in a visual way.

Let’s take a look at Minnesota. I chose the “high bandwidth” option.


Red = danger or closure/blockages, purple = difficult, blue = fair

Wow. Red!

This map immediately communicates what a mess the roads are. (As a side note, from personal experience, you do not even want to be out on the road when it’s labeled “difficult.” That’s MINNESOTA difficult. It takes a whole lotta winter to flap a Minnesota driver.)

On the west side of the state, the roads are closed. On the east side of the state, the little red boxes variously inform: “Hazardous driving conditions. Travel is not advised. There are warnings of white out conditions. Be prepared for heavy snow. Visibility is reduced.” or “Hazardous driving conditions. Be prepared for snow. Look out for plowed snow on the roadway.” They all use the key word “hazardous.”

OK, now Iowa’s turn. I chose the “full-feature” option.


Red = closed, purple = travel not advised, pink = completely covered, blue = partially covered, green = normal

Hm. I don’t like the colors as much as in the original version (currently called the “streamlined” version.) The red comes through OK, but the purple seems wimpy. The road closed icons read that the roads are “impassable”. Pretty straightforward, and consistent.

Also, Minnesota and Iowa have a mobile phone version of their weather maps (which I can’t test because my phone is “stupid” rather than “smart.”). I couldn’t find a mobile phone version on the Nebraska site. Maybe one is coming?

Granted, all these map designations are no better than the quality of the on-the-road, eyewitness reporting of the snow plow driver or state patrol officer or whoever else calls in the reports. And the weather can constantly change the road conditions. But I would like more consistency and information-at-a-glance from Nebraska’s site.

I prefer Iowa’s streamlined site when pink was “completely covered,” red was “travel not advised,” and black with red closure symbols was “road closed.” Minnesota’s system is better than Nebraska’s, too, because of the consistency of the message.

I will give Nebraska a break for now, since they are working on upgrading the site.

Ah well. At least Nebraska’s site is better than South Dakota’s:


Safe traveling, folks, whichever state you’re in.

Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2010 9:01 pm

    Very educational!


  1. Snow « SCB Citizen

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