Monday Patti and I made the trip to KCC as normal; in separate cars. Then I had to sit in on an emergency storm preparation meeting to listen to the maintenance department tell everyone how prepared they were.
Before the meeting was over there was another weather service broadcast for governments. It was worse than the earlier broadcast.
The administration promptly canceled all classes from noon Monday until Thursday morning.
Back at my office I went over the roster for the next few days and started making calls to the full time employees to see who could bring an overnight bag and stay in the spare dorm rooms for a couple days. Before I finished I had enough staff, along with the part time employees, to keep the staffing at safe minimum levels.
Patti was going to stay in one of the dorm rooms as well. There had been a flurry of calls between Patti and her boyfriend. I was pretty sure they were going to share a dorm room since he was on the mandatory staffing list.
I left at my normal time and stopped by Morton Field just in time to be in on the great debate; it had just started spitting snow. The FAA and the design engineers were having a great debate on when to activate the snow system.
One group argued that it should be turned on now to pre-heat the concrete runways. Their thinking was it would help in the long run with all the pipes and large amount of water the system used.
The other group wanted to wait until there was an inch or more of snow on the ground, saying that the snow would add extra runoff to the water, clearing the runway faster.
Lorrie, Robbie and I sided with the first group. While you were waiting for the accumulation, any aircraft would be at risk of possibly sliding off the runway or failing to stop at the end. There was also the risk of slush from the gear and tires ending up in an engine, shutting it down. That would be critical if the landing had to be aborted at the last instant.
Safety ruled and Lorrie gave the order to start the system. It was a good thing because the flakes were getting bigger and in increasing amounts. All of our planes and helicopters were in hangars and all of the hangar heating systems were on. The tarmac was clear and no planes were scheduled in tonight.
Tuesday morning we woke up to a white-out. It had snowed 2 inches an hour since before midnight, but luckily there was no wind. There was 16 inches of snow and it was growing fast. The forecast predicted it would be snowing at least the rest of the day. The state had technically closed all roads except to emergency personnel.
Lorrie was looking at the airport cameras, “BJ, come look at this, the system is running but it looks like there is a foot of slush on the runway.”
“We can’t have that – if it freezes it would take a month to get it off the runway. See if you can get Robbie and find out what is going on,” I said.
Lorrie put Robbie on the speaker when he answered. “It looks like the system is not working. Why are you not plowing the runway?” Lorrie asked.
“Its working, the engineers are slowly increasing the heaters and pumps to check out the settings and how effective they are,” was his reply.
“Have they got all the heaters on and the pumps at full pressure?” Lorrie asked.
“No, only half of the heaters are on at 50% and the pumps at 40%,” Robbie replied.
“Robbie, can a plane safely land in that mess?” I asked.
“Hell no, and I told them that,” he replied.
“Robbie, Morton is an emergency relief airport, light all the heaters and turn them on high. Turn on all the pumps necessary to run the pressures and flows to 95%. If the mess is not gone in 45 minutes, start plowing,” Lorrie instructed.
“They are not going to like it,” he replied.
“I don’t care if they like or not. Heat it up,” Lorrie replied.
“Are the contractors keeping up with the snow on the rest of the airport?” I asked.
“They are busy but keeping up, when the snow stops we will fire up the melting machines to finish the job,” Robbie replied.
The state has one lane opened here. As soon as we get the yard opened, we will try to get there to give you some assistance,” I replied.
After layering up with several layers of clothing and after telling Jenny and Lorrie to monitor the airport cameras, I went out to start the truck with the plow that was backed up to the garage to let it warm up.
It was Dad’s old four wheel drive one ton Chevrolet truck that he had for years. He bought the one ton to haul firewood and to pull the trailer with all his goose decoys. When he retired he had Marcy order him a new one but kept the old one. He and Jake had brought it last night with the body filled with firewood to give it traction. He also had chains on all four wheels.
While it was warming up Vicky, Ching Lee and I shoveled snow away from the garage as best as we could. When I thought it was warm enough all of us piled in the heat and away we went. Jake had give me the one minute crash course on how to use the thing, including locking the hubs before you got stuck – not after – just in case I needed it.
Ching Lee was operating the blade controls at my commands so I could have both hands to drive and shift the manual transmission. With the load of firewood and the chains, the thing was a beast pushing snow. Dad had even left chains and a tow rope on the floor.
I pushed the snow off the driveway and garage apron, way out onto the lawn just to make sure there was room for all that was coming. I opened the driveway all the way out to the road at least three cars wide. A few bushes met their demise. I intentionally plowed them over; I wanted a wider driveway anyhow.
When we were at the end of the lane I could see that the contractor at the gym was staying up with the snow over there.
Back in the garage I put tire chains on the rear of Marcy’s Suburban with Ching Lee and Vicky’s help. Actually, I used it as a training lesson to teach them how it was done. The second wheel was much faster and the two front ones went fast and smooth.
We went back into the house for a warm up and progress check on the airport runways. They looked much better. “Do you want to go 4 wheeling to the airport?” I asked.
I was not surprised when everyone including Crash and Marlene were ready to go. Everyone was ready to go stir crazy. Bundled up and we were off. Ching Lee and Vicky rode with me in the plow truck with Marcy, Jenny, Crash and Marlene in the Suburban.
The state was doing its best to keep one lane on the three lane highway open and they were gradually making it wider with each pass. It was going to be a long time before all this snow was off the road.
We made good time and had no trouble .We lucked out by getting behind state contracted plow truck. We lost the truck at the 301/50 split but picked up another one on 301.
I didn’t expect to see anyone at the terminal but the place was packed. The parking lot was filled with plows getting food and coffee. No wonder the road to the terminal was clear; never separate a working man from food or coffee, especially during freezing weather.
With computer case in hand – I dropped it off in Lorrie’s office – we walked straight to the big windows to look at the runway and tarmac. They were clear; the hot water was staying up with the snow fall.
Robbie and several FAA officials and engineers were headed our way.
“Boss, that looks much better, doesn’t it?” Robbie said.
“Yes it does, now that you have found out where the system needs to be, you can cut back on the heaters to maintain that setting,” I asked.
“Yes, we have 65% on the heat settings and have the pumps at 90% to keep the flow moving,” Robbie replied.
While we were standing there Hanna approached us, “Did you see last night’s segment?” she asked.
“Yes I did, looking good and I see they are running teasers today,” I replied.
“The producer is going to make four segments out of it. The numbers were way up, a lot of people were looking at it,” Hanna replied.
“How come you are not somewhere all hunkered down in this mess?” I asked.
“Look around – every state and county agency is here, this is where the real story is! All you get at the headquarters is the canned story,” Hanna replied.
A look around proved she was right – local and state agency foreman were sitting at tables with radios and phones directing the operations. That was another reason the parking lot was filled.
They finished their assignment, came here for food and a new assignment. Plows that did not have the state contract arrangement were here looking for work from the state and county and getting it.
The tower radio that had been quiet suddenly became alive. Carson was walking our way with a very grim look on her face.
“We have a 757-300 from Europe inbound, low on fuel; the wings are icing and 200 people on board. They were in a holding pattern a little too long for Kennedy and they are getting more snow than we are. It’s 40 minutes out max,” Carson said. “They are Atlantic flight 709”
I called the 911 center and explained the situation, “You have 30 minutes; can you get a couple fire trucks here for stand-by?” I asked.
I heard pagers going off in the restaurant; even when a volunteer fire man is not on call, he is ready to go on one. “Stations 11, 31, 22, 40 engines 18, 19, 34, 35, 21, 23, 45, 46 stand by for possible aircraft crash at Morton Field inbound 757-300 with 200 on board, low on fuel and heavy icing. Guides will be at the terminal to position equipment,” was the 911 center broadcast. Then there was even a bigger list of ambulances given.
Radios were again crackling in the restaurant, this time assigning plows to lead the fire engines from the fire houses. Men were leaving the restaurant at a run and there was the sound of diesels winding up as they were leaving the parking lot.
“Robbie, we are going to need to open the gate between our hangar and the terminal for the fire equipment. If there is time move some of it in front of or into the super hangar and leave some by our hangar and the terminal.”
“Atlantic flight 709 this is Morton Tower acknowledge please.”
“Atlantic flight 709 this is Morton Tower acknowledge please.”
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Bob W.