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NEWS | March 5, 2015

CES battles snow, cold

By Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

A member of the 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron snow removal team made his way to one of 13 snow removal vehicles at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.

Prepared for the twelve-hour day ahead, he had his lunch in tow and plenty of water as he knew the mission ahead would leave little room for a one-hour lunch break.

Earlier that day, a 633rd CES water and fuel systems Airman trudged through a foot of muddy water to repair a line that burst underground near one of the base's main entry points, the King Street gate.

And, as soon as the forecast for snow was announced, the 633rd CES heating, ventilation and air conditioning team readied to check every building on base for preventative maintenance measures.

Some of these are usual tasks the 633rd CES expects this time of year; however, the intensity of such tasks brought on by this year's cold snap was something no Southern Tier Base CES snow team like the 633rd CES's could prepare for bringing on 24 hour operations.

On average, when it does snow, the Hampton Roads area is used to acquiring 1 to 2 inches of snow in a day. This year the area saw 6 to 8 total inches over a night. On top of the quadrupled snowfall, the 633rd CES teams faced frigid single digit temperatures with added wind chills causing not only the snow to stick and turn to ice, but also causing damage to systems not prepared for the conditions.

"This particular area isn't built for weather under 20 degrees, so when it gets into the teens or single digits, which it did, the base is not prepared for that because this is a Southern Tier base," said Master Sgt. Roger Ivison, 633rd CES infrastructure superintendent. "You can anticipate cold weather and you have heating systems to take care of things, but when you have cold weather that hasn't hit this area since approximately 1995, most people aren't prepared."

According to Ivison, approximately 35 facilities were affected by the snow, the most notable being Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Military Working Dog Kennels, Langley Transit Center and Shellbank Fitness Center and the Langley club.

"All of these buildings were affected by the cold snap, not because they didn't have the heat on, but because they're not built for these temperatures," said Ivison. "We needed all hands on deck for HVAC because they cover facility heating which keeps everything warm protecting the pipes."

Some of the facilities affected house missions that enable not only base operations, but contingency operations as well.

"There are a lot of facilities here that do pretty amazing things, so we have to work through the night so they can do their job," said Ivison. "The 8 to 16 hour jobs play a factor into missions downrange because of who we support here such as the intelligence and fighter wing squadrons."

The cold also caused major disruptions for roads and base entry points pushing more 633rd CES teams to work through the night and early into the morning hours.

"We've had several breaks with regard to our water lines because of the cold weather," said Ivison. "What happens is, you have what's called a frost line, and in this area, that line is 20-inches deep, at the most, and with the weather being that cold, it actually froze further into the ground causing the damage to water pipes here."

One of those pipes located near the King Street gate caused the gate to close until the water and fuel systems team fixed the damage. The near weeklong project involved digging to the broken water line and replacing the damaged portions.

Water and fuel systems wasn't the only shop to work into the night hours. As the snow accumulated, the snow removal team geared up with what they had to clear the roadways and flight line and started working 24-hour operations.

For a Southern Tier snow removal team, the task at hand was grueling, said Ivison. Armed with about half the amount of snow removal vehicles, all of which have less power and ability than those used in the North, the team had to find innovative solutions to keep the flying and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions going and bringing the base back to normal operations.

This was also a challenge on the airfield as Langley doesn't have many grassy areas to place the snow.

"If you look at West ramp, it's about 3,000 feet long and about 1,000 feet wide.  The snow only goes two places and a plow isn't meant to push snow forward it's meant to push it to the side," said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Stoeckle, 633rd CES heavy equipment night shift snow noncommissioned officer in charge. "We have to supplement with things like box blades, which are 20-feet wide and 3-feet tall, and put them on the front of a front end loader to push a lot more snow forward."

After pushing the snow to one location, the team would often move it to another due to mission requirements.

"Because of the different missions coming in, base operations will let us know if we need to use a certain ramp, so we could end up moving the same snow out of one location and to another," said Stoeckle.

The snow moved enabled a four-star jet and NASA aircraft to takeoff within 24-hours of the first snowfall. Throughout the snow operations, the flight line was also able to take in E-3 AWACs, aircraft supporting Ebola operations and Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons.

Keeping the Langley and partnering missions going was something the snow team said they couldn't have accomplished on their own, especially with the fleet they had.

"With this last snow, we had to run the equipment for a week straight, so we had a lot of equipment breakdowns, and thanks to the great partnership we have with vehicle maintenance, we were able to get our vehicles in and out of maintenance in a timely manner for us to continue our mission," said Master Sgt. Alfredo Perez, 633rd CES heavy repair superintendent. "As soon as equipment breaks down, they come out here to check it out and get the vehicles in their bay to fix because they know we do not have enough equipment."

Stoeckle added that the relationship with base operations also helped them prioritize snow removal jobs. 

"The biggest reason we're able to accomplish all we do with such minimal equipment is the relationships we have built with organizations like base operations and vehicle maintenance," said Stoeckle. "If they weren't filtering out what needs to wait until later, priority-wise, we wouldn't be able to get the top priority projects like the intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance wings and runway done first."

With the potential for more snow in the coming weeks, the snow removal team and their partnering agencies are ready to take on another cold snap, but ask the base populace be patient with the process, said Perez.