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As of a result of winter storm "Nemo", twenty inches of snow covered Westover Air Reserve Base, Chicopee, Mass., between Feb. 8 and Feb. 10, 2013. Massachusetts declared a state of emergency and Gov. Duvall Patrick initiated the first driving ban since the blizzard of 1978. (U.S. Air Force photo/SrA. Kelly Galloway)
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Massive snowstorm blankets New England

Posted 3/7/2013   Updated 3/7/2013 Email story   Print story


by MSgt. Andrew Biscoe
439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

3/7/2013 - WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- A Nor'easter lasting more than 12 hours forced the base to cancel its February A UTA as nearly two feet of snow blanketed the area. Westover weather forecaster Doug Fortin said 20 inches of snow had fallen as of the morning of Feb. 8. Areas in Massachusetts and Connecticut reported as much as three feet of snow from the storm, dubbed Nemo.

For the first time in 35 years, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick ordered a statewide travel ban Feb. 8 -- the day the storm began. This was the first ban of its kind since the "Blizzard of '78," which brought traffic to a standstill on the region's major highways. The forced cancellation of the entire UTA was a first in Westover's 39-year history as a reserve base. Ten years ago, heavy snow curtailed half of winter A UTA.

Two weather systems - one from the west and one from the south - each converged the night of Feb. 8, feeding the ferocity of the storm with its gusting winds and heavy, drifting snow.

Once the snow began to fall, most of the precipitation covered the base by early Saturday.

The base contractor, Phoenix Management, had its fleet of 28 snow removal vehicles roll into action early in the morning of Feb. 8, but crews had only cleared away what was just the beginning of the powerful storm.

"There was four inches of snow when we left Friday," said Dan VanDalsen, PMI real property manager. "We came in Saturday and 20 had come down."

Massive rollover snow plow crews began clearing the snow of the base's primary runway, which is more than two miles long and as wide as a football field. "In general, because we have a 'bare pavement' requirement, PMI begins as soon as the snow starts falling, and continues until the storm is over," VanDalsen said. "During that effort, we'll use various methods and pieces of equipment, including deicing pellets or fluid, rollover plows and airfield brooms."

Because they may be needed at any time, snow removal crews prioritize the runways and flight line first. "This was a difficult storm to deal with due to the amount of drifting snow caused by high winds," VanDalsen said.

Crews worked on the runway clearing through the afternoon of Feb. 9, and the airfield reopened at 4 p.m. radley International Airport, the area's largest airport located near Windsor Locks, Conn., did not reopen until Sunday. Keeping the snow removal going isn't just for the flying mission.

The base's 29 tenant units need rapid and massive amounts of snow removal as well.

Despite the UTA cancellation, the base - besieged with blowing and drifting snow - was kept open by PMI crews and many other mission-essential workers.

PMI crews had to divert some of their work on the airport Saturday to assist one of the tenant units with their UTA. The Army National Guard's parking areas had so much snow that soldiers had to park in an adjacent lot until crews could clear enough of the snow. In addition, FEMA moved 20 trailers carrying emergency generators onto the base's North Ramp Feb. 10.

Snow removals of this magnitude usually cost between $125- 150,000, said Wayne Williams, base civil engineer. Those costs include clearing roads and parking lots, and labor and materials.

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