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New England digs out

Airports reopening after blizzard strike

Snow drifted unhelpfully against hangar doors in Marshfield, Mass., though crews had a good time clearing it. Photo by Ann Pollard, Shoreline Aviation Inc.

The snow fell and flew, and more fell, with more on top of that. Airports—and just about everything else across much of New England—ground to a halt. Massachusetts bore the brunt of the blizzard that arrived Jan. 26 and continued the following day, with up to 36 inches of snowfall recorded in multiple locations by the National Weather Service.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division Administrator Christopher Willenborg said Nantucket bore the brunt, and the airport there joined in a community effort to assist those in need, including those at risk from bone-chilling cold with power knocked out across the island. Airport staff deployed equipment typically used to deice aircraft to the streets to help utility workers deice power transformers covered by accumulation from both sky and sea.


The Boston Globe reported Jan. 28 that power had been restored to most on Nantucket, and local officials and residents were working together to provide generator fuel for those running out, or a lift into town.

Snowfall totals ranged from 4.5 inches in Southwick, Massachusetts, to 36 inches recorded by trained spotters in several locations in the central and northern parts of the state. Worcester County had two towns report 36 inches, and a dozen locations across the county reported at least 30 inches.

Lesser amounts belied the consistent challenge posed by the light, powdery snow and powerful winds that blew day and night, leaving thousands without power along the hard-hit coastline. Seaside communities were pummeled by winds that gusted to a peak of 66 knots (a 76 mph gust was reported from Nantucket; sustained winds there peaked at 51 knots) that breached the seawall and flooded homes in locations including Marshfield, south of Boston, where the local airport was digging out and resuming fixed-wing operations Jan. 28. 

Wind blew the runway nearly clear, but the hangars were another matter at Marshfield Municipal/George Harlow Field. Photo by Ann Pollard, Shoreline Aviation Inc.

Marshfield Municipal/George Harlow Field (operated by Shoreline Aviation Inc. on behalf of the town of Marshfield) remained open through the storm for helicopters, ready to serve emergency and damage assessment missions. Willenborg said in a Jan. 28 telephone interview that six of the state’s 39 public-use airports, including Gen. Edward Lawrence Logan International were open by the morning of Jan. 28, with another third of the total expected to open by day’s end. The wind blew snow into huge drifts, and complicated the cleanup in many places, Willenborg said.

“Certainly that adds to the challenges, particularly with signs being buried, lights, and all that,” Willenborg said. He expected that nearly all, if not all of the state’s airports, would be open by Jan. 30, and confirmed he is “absolutely” looking forward to spring.

Which is not to say everyone was miserable—not by a long shot. New Englanders are long accustomed to major snowstorms, and a foot or two of fresh snow is not all that unusual.

“I’m having a great time,” said Terry Parker, an 11-year veteran lineman at Fitchburg Municipal Airport, where city employees deployed a snow removal arsenal including big trucks with wing blade plows, a front-end loader, pickup trucks, and a large snow blower. Crews have the drill nailed down, thanks to plenty of practice. On Jan. 27, Parker was still watching snow fall, and preparing to begin cleanup in earnest. The snowblower was still waiting to join the action.

“We have to windrow our taxiways because of the lights,” Parker explained. Once that job was complete, machines would set to work sending the snow, at least briefly, back into the sky from which it came.

Parker said about 10 aircraft did not fit in hangars, though three feet of blowing and drifting snow (36 inches of snowfall was officially recorded in Lunenburg, and 30 inches in neighboring Fitchburg) had not buried them. “They’re still visible.”

In Marshfield, Shoreline Aviation Operations Manager Ann Pollard said the mood was good even if the task was formidable.

Marshfield Municipal Airport Manager Dave Dineen smiles while he moves snow. Photo by Ann Pollard, Shoreline Aviation Inc.

“Everybody’s out there having fun,” Pollard said in a Jan. 28 phone interview.

Marshfield’s official total was 25 inches, though Pollard said the wind distributed that in ways both helpful and not: The runway was nearly blown clear, but a lot of that snow ended up in huge piles blocking hangar doors.

Pollard said that the airport never fully closed, even when the weather was at its worst. Shoreline, owner and operator of the airport, works closely with municipal and state officials to assist with emergency response.

“We work really hard to make sure that we are always if at all possible open for helicopters,” Pollard said. “We were able to be open for that throughout the storm.”

Jim Moore
Jim Moore
Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Weather, Weather, Airport

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