Here We Snow Again!

33651840_UnknownI hate this time of year. I work long hours and it’s a struggle to get away from my desk.  When I do get a moment free it is either too wet, too cold or too dark to go outside. Just the other day an Osprey flew in and all I could do was watch sadly through the office window. This is so not OK!  Maybe the lack of airfield action is why I’m a little obsessed with winter operations.  OK, actually, I’m a lot obsessed. But let’s face it – no other season allows me to get my fix of airplanes and big, awesome ground support vehicles all at the same time!

img_6528If you have been reading this blog for awhile then you know that last year I got the opportunity to help the Ops department manage the flow of traffic into and out of the deice pad. There was a lot to learn and it was kind-of stressful, but it was also incredibly cool.  Unfortunately I’ve been unable to help out this year and I miss it SO MUCH!  Wait… did I just admit that I miss being at the airport at 5am in freezing weather? Yes, I did. I know it sounds crazy, but I really enjoyed making a hands-on contribution to keeping the airport up and running.

33651488_UnknownPreparation for the winter season actually begins in August. That’s when the airport starts stocking up on the chemicals and other supplies needed to aid in snow removal. In early fall we start hiring winter seasonal employees and the Airfield department recruits for additional snow warriors from among the other departments. I know what you’re thinking.  If they allow other airport employees to help out in the winter, why on earth have I not jumped all over this opportunity? Please refer back to paragraph number one.  Sadly, winter is the busiest time of year in accounting and it just isn’t possible to take on anything else.

IMG_2504This year we added serious muscle to our snow removal capabilities with the purchase of six multi-function machines. These ginormous vehicles have a plow on one end and a broom on the other. They are capable of moving huge amounts of snow in a fairly short amount of time. When it comes to ground support vehicles, these are the biggest and baddest of the bunch. Only the full-time airfield employees are allowed to drive them – no seasonals or helpers from other departments. Not surprising when you consider they cost three quarters of a million dollars each!

33651984_unknown.jpgOnce the snow starts falling, keeping the airport open is a collaborative effort between Operations, Airfield Maintenance and ATC. One of these days I hope to score a ride along so I can get a first-hand look at the process. But for now I do what so many other avgeeks do – I bring up Flight Radar 24 and tune in to the tower on Live ATC. Listening in on winter operations at any airport can be fascinating. However, when it’s my airport it becomes quite personal.  I know the people who are out there working, and when the weather conditions are bad I know what they are up against.

33651568_Unknown (1)Our most recent big storm was quite a challenge. It started with temps well above freezing and torrential rain. These conditions can make it hard to pre-treat the runways to get ahead of the frozen participation to come. The temps fell through-out the day hovering at the freezing mark for a few hours and coating everything in ice. As the temps continued to plummet the ice turned to snow and the winds began to pick up.

Our runways have an east-west orientation.  During this storm the wind was from the north gusting up to 32kts. Keeping the runways and taxiways plowed in these conditions is incredibly difficult to say the least. The crosswinds, in combination with snowy runways (rated at 3/3/3 on the RCAM scale), proved to be too much for most flights. For a good two hours I watched as every single plane had to divert. Ouch!  This is never what any airport or airline wants. However, sometimes there’s just no winning against Mother Nature.

IMG_3338I was surprised at first to hear the deice pad frequency up and running so late at night. Under normal winter conditions – a frosty day or light snow – Ops will run the deice pad only during busy departure times. Otherwise the ramp remains uncontrolled and pilots work directly with the ground crews to get positioned for deicing. However, I found out that any time the airport is in snow operations, the Ops Department will take charge of the deice pad. This way they can keep the parking lines clear of snow, improve traffic flow and minimize the risk of collisions. Plus it allows them to relieve some of the burden on ATC since Ops will take over issuing some of the taxi instructions.

During a storm the snow removal teams focus on the runways and the main taxiways.  It can take several days after the snow stops falling to clear the rest of the paved surfaces. (Airports have A LOT of paved surfaces!) Fortunately we’re in the midst of a mid-January thaw so the temps have warmed up, the snow has melted and the snow warriors are getting a much-needed rest.  However, I have a feeling winter isn’t done with us yet.  The snow will return, and when it does you know I’ll be watching!

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6 thoughts on “Here We Snow Again!

  1. Fun title…it was very nICE! Love reading your musings. It’s a shame you can’t get out to the de-ice pad much, I loved the trucks when I worked for my local airport crew. Nothing like being above a jet in a teeny bucket in the snow and wind. But winter has worn it’s welcome. Have some cocoa, take more pictures and videos, and summer will be here soon! Cheers!


    • Thanks so much for reading, Scotty! I don’t think I would have enjoyed the deice pad as much if I had to be out in the bucket! Watching from the cab of a warm truck is a lot more comfortable. But as much as I enjoy winter ops, I am very much ready for spring and air show season!!!


  2. I bet the operation of those $750k vehicles is limited to full-time employees not so much because they’re worried about damage to the trucks as because they’re concerned that improper operation could lead to damaging the airport itself. Removing snow and ice without taking any pavement, grass, turf, paint, lights, signs, aircraft, or other “stuff” with it probably a full-time challenge!


    • Hi Ron! Thanks for reading! I think a little bit of both, actually. It isn’t unheard of for trainees to take out a light or two. I find the regular plows to be large and intimidating. I couldn’t imagine driving one of the mega machines.


  3. Another GREAT Blog as usual! I “Think” I understand your desire to be out there on the Deice Pad but having spent 43 years on the Ramp, at the 2 airports I worked at I was never overjoyed for winter operations! Working the deice rig we had back in 1972 and ’73 when I began, was a real scare if you are scared of heights. It was a trailer towed behind a tug. You’d have to climb up and spray down the tails along with the rest of the aircraft. It was bad enough doing a CV-580 or DC-9 & BAC 1-11 but when we got 727’s that was even higher. They had to extend the platform. Riding around the top of that tower as the trailer bounced across the frozen snow and ice, trying to throw you off the tower was no thrill! We were thrilled when we finally got an actual 3 wheeled deicer that you could drive and get into a bucket like TWA, UA & EA had. It still wasn’t a lot of fun being out there doing that. Wish I was still working out there so I could let you get in there and experience the “Fun” of it! HA! Enjoy.


    • Thanks for reading, Jet! Remember that what I miss is helping to manage the traffic on the pad, which is done from the comfort of an SUV. I have no doubt whatsoever that deicing from an open bucket is no fun at all. And what you used to do sounds even less fun still! In fact, winter ops in general comes with long hours and a fair amount of stress. I’m sure most Ops and Airfield folks can’t wait for winter to be over. But until then at least they have one observer who finds what they do to be quite fascinating and who is out here cheering them on. 😊


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