Sioux City, Iowa --
Enough snow fell during Thanksgiving Day eve storm in Western Iowa to cause Dave Twohig, the 185th Air Refueling Wing’s “Snow King,” to kick-start his plan for clearing snow from his Sioux City, Iowa based Air Guard unit.
With the season’s first snow, Twohig traded his ball cap for one of his many other hats, or “crown” in this case, as the unit’s primary person responsible for organizing snow removal at the Air National Guard unit in Sioux City.
Each winter the Snow King and his court of a dozen other deputies from the unit’s Civil Engineering Squadron are tasked to help clear snow. Civil engineering is made up of people who specialize in vocations like carpentry, plumbing, electrical and power production. During the winter, however, people from each shop also serve at the behest of the Snow King.
When it is not snowing, Twohig works as the state supervisor in the Air Guard’s Civil Engineering Squadron. Additionally, as a traditional member of the Air Guard, Master Sgt. Twohig also works weekends as the Civil Engineering Squadron Superintendent.
Twohig says the snow crew’s No. 1 priority is clearing the ramp - the “parking lot” for the unit’s airplanes. The key difference from a traditional parking lot is that with a half-dozen KC-135’s parked on the ramp, it is a really big parking lot filled with really big and expensive airplanes.
Twohig said there are a lot of considerations when moving large equipment around during dark early morning hours, especially when it is still snowing or blowing.
“We have a training plan for all of the equipment but there is a lot of OJT (on the job training) because everything changes when it is dark and the snow is flying and you can’t see, It is like driving in a white out,” Twohig said.
In particularly snowy seasons Twohig said piling the snow around the ramp presents concerns for the unit’s KC-135’s as they taxi in and out of the area.
“We have to watch how big the piles get near the ramp because if we get a lot of snow there are concerns about minimum wing tip clearance,” Twohig added.
The Squadron has about $2 million worth of snow removal equipment that includes Oshkosh H-Series Blowers, Front Mounted Broom trucks and H-Series plows.
Twohig says the newer more reliable equipment allows them to spend more time moving snow and a lot less time repairing equipment than when he first started working for the Air Guard. He says clearing base parking lots, roads and the ramp area quickly is especially important when trying to ensure 24-hour air operations that are a part of the unit’s KC-135 mission.
Twohig says that every snow event is different but the goal is to have a place for people to park and a clear ramp in time for typical work day to begin. All this means a very early 3 a.m. start for the snow crew.
“Once cars start flowing in it starts to get a little dicey, when we have machines that are throwing snow. The visibility is terrible, you have to be very careful when people start showing up,” Twohig said.
After the main part of the base is cleared, equipment is dispatched to roads leading to the unit’s paint facility, munitions and firing range.
“We have been doing it so long we have got it down to a system. What throws a wrench into it is, what kind of snow it is, whether it is wet and heavy or if it is blowing.” Twohig said.
According to Twohig there are a lot moving parts and a lot of important pieces to ensure the snow is cleared. The operation is coordinated with group commanders in maintenance and operations as well as airfield management. He says the most important factor is the flying schedule. He also said a huge player is the availability of the people in vehicle maintenance in the case of breakdowns. Other entities like finance can come into play when one snow storm follows anther and additional resources are needed to get the job done.
The last piece of the pie according to Twohig includes the unit’s building occupants who he says are also an important part of the snow removal plan. While unit members put the finishing touches on sidewalks and entryways from 2019’s inaugural storm Twohig’s snow team can look forward to Thanksgiving dinner at home for now, unless it starts to snow again.