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Snow Removal

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

It’s an odd business to be in, pushing snow around from place to place. Done well, nobody knows or cares- come to work, park the car, walk to class. Miss a storm, and it’s easy to see the mistake. Just ask a student wearing their slippers or flip-flops to Proctor for breakfast. (Yes, flip-flops, not exaggerating here) It’s a misnomer to call it snow removal, we’re only pushing it or moving it to a more convenient location. The only way I know to truly remove snow would play havoc with our carbon footprint, not to mention our stormwater catch basins. While I personally believe that snow should only be moved in snowman form, that’s not entirely possible on campus, so we move it around, stack it up, shovel it off of steps, and plow it to the side.

Snow removal starts several days before the storm, sometimes as much as a week. It’s best to not get surprised by a storm and, while it happens, is rare. The more foreshadowing involved, the better shape we are in handle the storm. So we wait, and watch. Luther Tenny, Assistant Director of Facilities Management, oversees snow removal operations, and lives and breathes the weather forecast all winter long. (And all summer, too, but for golf.) He makes “the call”, and sets the operation in motion.

If conditions are right, the day before the storm we spray an anti-icer called Ice Ban on our roads and walks. It’s a topic for another blog post-suffice to say it prevents the snow from forming a bond with the pavement, and helps clear the ground quickly and easily. The devil is in the aforementioned conditions, so while it’s a useful tool, we don’t apply all the time.

Snow removal gears up at 2 AM, about the time students are wrapping up for the night, and starts with the big iron. A loader, a back hoe, and a single axel tandem truck plow snow on the major arteries of campus. These include Old Chapel Road, Porter Field Road, the Service building, Stewart Hill, CFA, Bicentennial Hall Road, and other places I’m sure I’m forgetting. The early start time ensures when staff start arriving at 4 AM to start their day they can arrive safely, and have a plowed lot to park. It is also nice to have main roads open for not just ourselves, but for the town of Middlebury as well.

At 4 in the morning things get more interesting. 6 snowplows on one ton trucks head out, and start plowing driveways, parking lots, loading docks, and other places too small for the large equipment. I’ll outline a typical route-all of them are about this long. Ready? Emma Willard, both front and rear parking lots. Storrs Ave.-the small faculty staff lot, and hop across the road for the library loading dock while you’re in the neighborhood. 3 South, then Twilight Hall, 125 Main Street (Public Safety), then the Meeker parking lot, then go down South Main Street and do 121, 119, 99/105, 100/102, 104, 106, and 108/110. Now head up Franklin Street, and do The Mill, 91, 115, and 131. Still Snowing? Repeat.

Also at 4 the sidewalk tractors join the fray. 4 people, in a couple of types of tractors, and a Trackless, head out and plow our 10 miles of walkways. In square footage, it’s over 8 acres of mostly concrete sidewalks. All the tractors have a small sander on the rear, spreading sand to keep the walks from becoming too slippery. These operators are really the unsung heroes of the snow removal team. Think of the  first snow of the year, with no snow banks as reference points, and how hard it is to remember not only where the walkways are, but where are the lips, bumps, manhole covers, trash cans, and other obstructions are, and you’ll get a feel for what they are up against.

6 Am comes, and the light is beginning to break. Unless there is a tremendous amount of snow, the sidewalk tractors have opened enough up for the shovel crews to head out in gators to all the buildings. 43 people in facilities, ranging from electricians and plumbers, to floor crew, Recycle center staff, general services, landscapers, and carpenters, to anybody else we can rustle up, load up the gators with shovels, sand, salt, other ice melters, and ice scrapers, and go shovel out all campus buildings on 10 different routes. Not just main entries, but every fire door, wheelchair ramp, garage door, fire escape, basement hatchway, and front and rear door need to be shoveled clear.

On a normal storm, most routes are done by 9:30 or so. Everybody goes back to the service building, cleans their equipment, and scrounges some coffee or hot chocolate. Then they go back to their regular job for the rest of the day.

The landscape crew stays on the snow detail, for a couple of days sometimes.  The sidewalks may need to have snow pushed back more, to make room to push off the next snow. Fire hydrants, oil fill spigots, and propane tanks need to be found and cleared. Unoccupied houses still need to be shoveled, along with decks, plazas, and roofs. Even most of the Bicentennial Hall roof gets shoveled off, with a pair of electric snow blowers, so the building doesn’t fill with fumes, and many shovels. Kohn field is cleared of snow for early spring practices and the track is cleared as well.

On average, snow events number about 15 a year. Even a 1 inch storm demands some response-the tolerance on campus is considerably lower than an average driveway. And come spring, all the sand and torn sod needs to be picked up as well. It’s great fun, actually, being part of such a large team of diverse individuals all coming together to move snow. At least for the first couple of storms…

Snow Day

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

First off-apologies to all who were looking for the Middlebury weather station today. As many of you know, we lost power on campus for a couple of hours this morning, and that wrecks havoc with the weather station. We don’t lose any data, as the weather station has battery backups to keep logging. The network connection it is on the station gets all wonky, though, and needs to be reset, which I just got a chance to do right now.

I’ll fill you in on what you missed. It snowed today, in case you hadn’t noticed. Snow reportsaround us are saying 11-17″ of snow. I’m calling it 14″ on campus, give or take. Truthfully, I’m not really sure. I’ve been shoveling snow all day, and have no idea how much fell. It just kept falling. And falling. The station recorded 1.08″ of precipitation, so it’s an 14:1 snow ratio. That means wet and heavy, a three advil night for many of us in the facilities.

What I am finding more interesting is the storm coming thursday night into friday. The Burlington Office of the National Weather Service is getting all excited in their normally stoic forecaster discussions. We could be in for an unusual storm.  Apparently, a cold front is coming up from Cape Hatteras, and occulding, or combining, with another front  right off the southern New England coast. The pressure with this storm is impressive, and is forecasted to bring strong easterly winds, with gusts of 50-60 MPH, particularly on the western slopes of the Green Mountains. (Breadloaf!) They are comparing this event to a storm on April 16, 2007 where there was damaging winds all along the slopes of the Green Mountains. Some of you may remember this as the Rutland “norricane”, which wiped out approximately2100 trees in the Rutland area. Fortunately, I don’t think we’re looking at much precipitation from this down here in the valleys, or maybe even just rain, as the warm easterly winds mix down. Also, as the weather service points out, rarely do we get significant winds and precipitation at the same time, it is usually one or the other.

For you weather geeks, most of this National Weather service forecasts I get from their forecaster discussion-something I’ve probably mentioned before. I think it’s the way various offices communicate with each other, and share ideas. I think it predates the internet-their straight text product reads like a time when bandwidth was measured in minutes, so you’d better write concise (there is an idea-blogs never would have made it before broadband connections, as idiots like me couldn’t afford to ramble on incoherently). Unabbreviated reads like this, but the weather service has a translation page, or I read it at the Weather Underground.

Main Quad Finished, and some Snow

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Snow, so far, is a very fluffy 12″, and it is still coming down. I’m betting another 3″ or so. The rain guage has only measured about .16″ of preciptation, just to give you an idea how fluffy the snow is, although I wonder how about the accuracy of that. That would make the snow/water ratio astronomical.

The Main Quad work is finsished, and for those of you that haven’t seen it yet I think you’re in for a treat. Here’s a couple of web cam shots, before and after. Enjoy the snow!

View from Old Chapel-Before

View from Old Chapel-Before

View from Old Chapel-After

View from Old Chapel-After

Lake Effect Snow

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Being part of the snow removal crew at Middlebury, it’s a little disconcerting to awaken on a lazy Sunday morning, look outside the window, and see it snowing like the dickens. So I go downstairs, start the coffee (priorities), boot the computer, and look at the Old Chapel Web Cam. Phew, not snowing on campus. Fooled by lake effect snow again.

Fortunately, we don’t live in Buffalo, but we certainly do get lake effect snow in the Champlain Valley. Lake Champlain is deceiving, as it is only 12 miles wide at the widest point, and much less wide down our way. It is, however, 125 miles long, north to south. (While we’re at it, average depth is 65 feet, with the deepest part a whopping 400 feet. That’s down where I used to live in Charlotte, and I can remember getting the heebies cross country skiing over that area when the lake completely froze one year. The lake is about 700 square miles). Lake Effectsnow requires several meteorological items to align, the major two being fetch and temperature. Fetch is simply the wind blowing across the lake, picking up moisture.  The fetch needs to be at least 100 km, so the wind on Lake Champlain needs to be from the NNW, which it was this morning.

Lake Effect Snow Radar Map
Lake Effect Snow Radar Map

The temperature is the other major factor. The air temperature at altitude (850 mb temp, roughly 1500 feet up) needs to be 15 degrees celsius less than the lake temp. The air temperature this morning was about 15 degrees, and the lake was a balmy 43. So, as you can see on the radar map, no snow at Middlebury, where the white circle is, while at my house, due west of Middlebury, we are seeing snow.

There is a great paper (PDF) studying this phenomenon published by the Burlington Office of the National Weather Service. The updated forecast just called for several tenths of an inch more snow through 2 PM.

Yesterday’s Storm

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Here at Middlebury we seemed to have missed the brunt of the storm all around us. Trees are down all around Lake Dunmore, East Middlebury, and up into Huntington. No major tree damage here, although some Weeping Willows look like the base of the chair you sit in after a haircut-we’ll be picking up sticks for a day or so. Snow Reports from around the area include 6″ in Cornwall, and 9″ in Bridport, while on campus we only seemed to be shoveling 3″. Our peak wind gust was 48 MPH, from the southeast at 2 PM. Some brave souls out making snowmen on Battell Beach went inside pretty quickly after that…

Snow, finally.

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

The National Weather Service is getting all excited about breaking the record of the latest date of first measurable snowfall (measurable meaning more than .1″). Being that they keep the record in Burlington, which didn’t get snow yesterday, they are poised to break it tomorrow. I never get too excited about records, what the hottest day was, the coldest, all that. It’s like baseball statistics-dry, interesting on the periphery, but not riveting reading.
Here in Middlebury we got about 1/10th of an inch, exactly .04″ in liquid form. (The weather station melts the snow and pretends it is rain.) The sidewalks and roads were warm enough to melt the snow as well, so facilities got this one off (yea!). Look for colder weather this week, and a big storm on Wednesday, the jury is still out as to amount of rain/snow/sleet/junk that may fall.