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Piling on

By:
  • Neal Glatt, CSP, ASM
- Posted: April 1, 2015

Boston’s record winter this season goes well beyond simply having the snowiest season ever recorded with 110.6 inches. The real story is the unbearable six-week period with weekly snowstorms that crushed the 30-day snowfall record. A whopping 94.4 inches toppled the previous record of 58.8 inches set in 1978. Every snowfighter has an epic story of the toughest snowstorm or winter that they faced. This one may top it.

Snow and ice management companies throughout Massachusetts have survived their fair share of blizzards. It seems every major snowstorm is compared to the Blizzard of ’78, the second-snowiest storm Boston has received at 27.1 inches. The 2013 blizzard was a top-five snowstorm at 24.9 inches. And the April Fool’s Day 1997 storm made New Englanders wish the 25.4 inches that fell were a prank. 

But this winter, two separate snowstorms cracked the top 10 list of biggest storms with 24.6 inches and 23.8 inches — and they occurred in less than two weeks’ time. When you combine 70+ mph winds and frigid temperatures and reflect on how two storms dumped more than 30 inches between January 26 and February 14, it isn’t tough to see why Bostonians are ready for spring.

What are the chances of facing such a brutal winter in Boston? According to University of Oklahoma meteorologist Sam Lillo, it’s 1 in 26,315. For snow and ice management companies, managing the equipment, staff, overhead, and costs for winter can feel like playing the lottery, but what do you do when the odds are stacked so high against you? At Case Snow Management, we relied on preparation, got creative, and dug deep to preserve.

Snow-Dump
With space and hauling time at a premium, Case Snow Management’s snow farm became a dumping ground for more than 110 inches of snow.

Preparation is everything
If there was one silver lining this past winter, it was that we were able to complete preseason planning. With the exception of a few inches of snow on Thanksgiving weekend, there was practically no inclement weather to manage until the last week of January. Unlike past seasons, which have seen significant snowfall before Halloween, there was more than enough time to mobilize equipment, finalize purchases, hire staff, and complete training and walkthroughs.

How a company chooses to prepare, however, is where the difference is made. It can be simple to prepare for a 3- to 6-inch event or to purchase enough salt for a handful of deicings. The team felt we needed to be equipped for 12-inch-plus snowstorms and have at least two weeks’ worth of deicing material in case of ice storms or supply shortages. And though nobody could prepare for the winter Boston had, it is possible to build a solid foundation for success by preparing for significant snowstorms.

Forecasts of blizzard conditions or substantial snowfall create panic, and as soon as the storm begins it is nearly guaranteed that no additional equipment, materials, or staff will be available. Contractors can only be as successful as the resources on hand. Those that underprepare will not make up any ground when it counts. Knowing that clients expect to stay open and accessible throughout blizzards, that equipment will inevitably break down, and that staff will need time to rest are variables around which we create operational plans. As a result, the core resources were in place to manage a winter worse than we could have imagined.

Get creative

When the forecast of 20 to 30 inches came in with some certainty, I planned to manage the blizzard like those I’ve handled in the past — push through for days on end, then rest when it was over. Every decision was predicated on getting through the next 72 hours, until there was a report of another 12 to 20 inches coming a few days later. It was clear that the plan in place wouldn’t work and changes had to be made.

We split up responsibilities differently, started taking better shifts, and worked together to handle the management. It wasn’t easy to switch plans mid-event, but as the barrage of snowstorms continued throughout February, it became obvious the change was critical. 

As snow piles grew dangerously tall, more creativity was required to tackle client requests. Tensions mounted throughout the state, and political pressure led to a call from the governor to remove all snow immediately from commuter train parking lots. Despite having more than 100 dump trucks on the road to haul snow, we couldn’t meet the client demands in the timeframe required without more resources.

A team was created to source more trucks, but every piece of equipment already was committed. Instead of giving up, we thought of another solution. The job could be completed faster if hauling time was reduced, so we leased land closer to the jobsites and hauled the snow there. By thinking outside the box, a hopeless situation became an opportunity to succeed.

Dig deep

The biggest factor to overcoming incredible challenges is willpower. To conquer the toughest winter season, not only did our team dig deep to meet client demands, it went above and beyond.

At the end of February, a client called requesting snow removal from the top of a nine-story parking deck in downtown Boston that Case Snow doesn’t maintain. At this particular location, snow has always been left to melt naturally. This winter, however, the load ratios were too much and building engineers warned of a roof collapse. 

It would have been simple to pass on the job. There was no precedent for how to complete the operation, and it seemed impossible. There was no spot to dump snow off the side and no snow melters were available. Trucking snow down was the only option, but the height clearance was only 6 feet, 8 inches. Even if small trucks could be secured there was no place to stockpile the snow to load into dump trucks and haul away. 

The operation required a tremendous amount of work well outside normal snow hauling operations. Permits were secured to shut down city streets overnight. Dump trailers were rented to move the snow to the bottom of the deck. Every piece of equipment was measured to ensure it would fit. Traffic flow maps had to be created. It was a major undertaking that surpassed the complexity of any snow removal operation we’ve completed. But it was a success.

Roof1 Roof2
A nine-story parking deck required snow shoveling and unique removal methods given the site’s restraints.

Once in a lifetime
Looking back, it is incomprehensible the amount of work that was completed in just six weeks. To the snow and ice contractors who successfully managed operations through this wicked New England winter, kudos. We’ve overcome the worst winter in Boston’s history. Let’s hope we never have to again.

Neal Glatt, CSP, is an account executive with Case Snow Management in North Attleboro, MA. Contact him at nglatt@casesnow.com. Photos courtesy of Ryan Pickering.

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