Looking out at the almost whiteout conditions on the runways at Salt Lake City International Airport, I am amazed that the planes have clearance to take off and land. Weather-wise, we have been extremely fortunate this winter compared to the Northeast, Midwest, and even the Southern U.S. Until this morning, Salt Lake City had less than 7 inches of snow this meteorological winter, defined as December through February. We average about 56 inches of snow each winter. The winter of 2014-15 will go down as the warmest and least snowy meteorological winter since records have been kept dating back to the 1870s.
We often underestimate the effect of snow and freezing rain on our facilities. The effort that goes into clearing the runways, roadways, and parking lots to keep the airport safe and open is critical and often goes unnoticed. The mobilization of huge snow brooms to clear snow from the runways is like watching a symphony perform. Each instrument knows its role and performs admirably. Without a clean runway, planes cannot take off or land, essentially shutting the airport down.
The challenges facing parking facilities are similar. If parkers cannot gain access into the lots, they cannot board the shuttles to the terminals and therefore cannot board the planes. Cars park for days at a time at an airport. The additional labor involved clearing a parking lot that is near capacity poses an additional concern. Wind rows that are formed as plows go behind parked vehicles are difficult to deal with during freeze/thaw scenarios. Small cars have a difficult time maneuvering over built-up snow and ice in the lot. If enough snow has accumulated, the additional challenge of snow removal from the lot comes into the equation. Many areas of New England have more than 100 inches of standing snow. Much of that will be there until the spring thaw.
The challenges facing a university or municipality are quite similar. If the roads are not cleared prior to morning rush, workers and shoppers cannot get into the central business district. Surface parking lots need to be cleared of snow and ice to facilitate parking. Adequate chemicals need to be on hand to facilitate the melting of ice and snow. Walkways and sidewalks need to be cleared for pedestrians, especially on college campuses where many students walk between their dorms and classes.
Although the snow will only last a short while today, it is refreshing to get back into winter mode, mobilize our snow desk, and deal with the cleanup of the runways, roadways, and parking facilities. There are other parts of the country that remain inundated with snow and are in much worse shape than Salt Lake City.