Last month, we thought spring had sprung, but March still had a few snowy surprises for us. From our office at the Hanscom Civil Air Terminal, we had a great view of plows clearing the airfield.
How do Northeast reliever airports handle all that snow anyway?
The task requires a delicate balance of managing resources at critical times because of the complexity of keeping the runways and taxiways safe for aircraft operations and cleared of snow with the equipment and manpower available. It has been affectionately called “The Dance.”
Often called the only job where you can be wrong 80% of the time and still be employed, in all fairness, meteorologists have a complex task of forecasting snowfall for specific areas and alerting the public of what may happen. The number of variables that enter into the forecast of a potential snowstorm several days in advance can be overwhelming. These variables are so fluid (forgive the pun), that any more notice than a few days is really just a guess.
Airport managers have the balancing act of keeping the runways and taxiways open during these challenging conditions. The crew at Bedford, MA (KBED) must clear over 2.5 million square feet of pavement to keep the airport moving. (They also clear more pavement as time permits.)
As most of us in the Northeast already know, our snow can be fluffy or it can stick to your shovel like molasses. This year Hanscom Field has been open continuously for aircraft to land safely – except during the heaviest part of Blizzard Nemo, which produced over two feet of snow in approximately 24 hours.
This year has been particularly challenging with a blizzard, Nor’easter, and several substantial snowfalls in between where the snow is relentless and heavy. The sun has been a rare visitor to the Northeast this year too. The statistics here at Bedford are amazing; there were 17 separate incidents of substantial snow, totaling 70 inches.
Plowing the snow is only the beginning because the snow must be transported to a safe area where it will not affect aircraft operations. Because many aircraft have large wingspans with low clearances, these crews don’t have the luxury or creating snow banks along the sides or at the ends of the runways. The operation team must lift all of this snow up and move it out of the way, which is much easier said than done.
As I watch “the dance” outside my window at Hanscom Field in Bedford, MA (KBED), I remember that these managers and operations personnel deserve a great deal of credit for working through the nights and days to meet the challenges of the Northeast winter of 2013.
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