It’s Snow Joke
February 28, 2022
Inclement weather is the bane of all travelers, and winter weather can make up the worst of it. No one likes to hear about a flight delay or cancellation, not the traveler, and certainly not the ABE employees who work to keep the planes de-iced and the taxiways and runways clear.
Brian Dennis, Operations and Safety Manager at ABE, has been at the airport for 11 years. He has worked out on the ramp, on the runways, and has Snow Boss duties, meaning he is in charge of communications for the Snow Removal Team on the airfield.
And he has dealt with his fair share of winter weather.
“One storm that stands out was when we had a three-foot snow event,” he said, referring to the January 2016 blizzard that dumped more than 30 inches of snow on the Lehigh Valley in just over 24 hours, setting a new snowfall record in Allentown.
“The other Snow Boss went off duty at 2 a.m., so that’s when I had to come in to take over. It took 20 minutes just to clear off the (Operations) truck. I got to the service road, on my way to relieve him, and I can see that there are all these little plowed paths. I could see my co-Boss’s truck and I needed to get to him quickly, but operating in the dark through these plowed paths at 2 a.m. made it much more difficult than it should have been.
“The first path just…ended. So, I had to take another. And then another. It ended up taking me 20 minutes to reach him when it normally would have taken 30 seconds.
“And in that same storm, I was trying to exit a taxiway. I’ve driven the runway a million times, but due to the low visibility during the storm, I thought a break in the lights was the road, but it wasn’t, and I ended up stuck in the airfield. They had to send someone to pull me out!”
There must be something special about that winter 2 a.m. timeframe because Dennis had another story to tell about a unique experience out on the runway.
“When I was an Operations Officer, I had to come in around 2 a.m. for a snow watch. It had just started to flurry, but other than that there was little activity.
“While driving on the runway, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. When I looked, it was a Snowy Owl!
“That year we had two or three that made the Airport home for about a week. [NOTE: Small numbers of Snowy Owls, native to the Arctic Tundra, have been known to visit the region beginning in January most years.] And we had a difficult time getting them to relocate, but I had never actually seen one before.
“There it was, flying alongside the truck, looking in the window like it was wondering what I was doing. Then it flew off. I thought I was hallucinating!
Of course, sometimes Dennis did have to get out of his truck to deal with the various problems that come up when dealing with winter weather at the Airport.
After thinking for a moment, Dennis nodded and said, “I have a story from when I worked on the ramp. This was around 11 years ago. We were having a problem with one of the de-icer trucks.
“There’s one person driving, and one person in the bucket spraying the plane. I was driving. The bucket sprayer stopped working, so we had to call for a mechanic. After looking around he yelled up, ‘Don’t start spraying!’ But because of the noise out on the ramp, my partner heard ‘Start spraying!’ So he did, letting it go full throttle.”
By this time, Dennis was standing beside the mechanic―a big mistake.
“It generated so much pressure in the line that it exploded, and we all got drenched with 30 gallons of propylene glycol. The liquid de-icing agent. Looking back, it was funny, but at the time? It wasn’t.”
Brian Dennis has a particular way of thinking about and dealing with winter weather, a way that is most likely shared by his fellow members of the Snow Removal Team at ABE, and possibly winter operations personnel at other airports. It has left its mark. “I used to love winter, snowboarding and all, but now I’m not winter’s biggest fan as a result of this job.”
I think we can all sympathize, but his experiences have certainly made for some interesting stories along the way!