UCAR Communications


staff notes monthly

April 2003

The marathoners: Staffers put in long shifts during snowstorm

Driving through snow to the Mesa Lab on the morning of Tuesday, 18 March, Carol Kirkley had a premonition that it could be a long day at work. But she certainly had every expectation of seeing her house again before the following afternoon.

“I had a feeling that we could be there for a while,” she recalls with a smile. “But I had no idea this would turn into a day and a half.”

Ron Wicker and Carol Kirkley

Carol and her colleague, Ron Wicker, spent 32 hours at work during the massive snowstorm that battered the Front Range on 18–19 March. The two officers, who are employed by Barton Protective Services to provide security at all of UCAR’s facilities in the Boulder area, were among a number of workers who put in long shifts that sometimes stretched into Wednesday or even Thursday. In some cases (such as with Carol and Ron), the staffers had to remain at their posts because their replacements could not make it in; in other cases, they put in extra hours to clear away the snow.

By the morning of 19 March, the mesa was buried in snow. (Photo by David Soule.)

At the Scientific Computing Division, Stan McLaughlin worked from 8 a.m. Tuesday until the end of his Thursday shift at 4 p.m. Stan, an operations facility technician who needed to be on hand in case of computer problems, had brought in provisions Monday because he knew the storm could be intense. He took naps on a cot between shifts.

Others at SCD who worked long shifts included Susan Albertson, Julie Harris, Gary Gard, and Gary New. They and their colleagues powered down the supercomputers as a precaution when power briefly went out Tuesday afternoon, but they did not run into other significant problems.

“It was a great team effort,” says Aaron Andersen, manager of the Operations and Infrastructure Support Section. “Everybody maintained a cool head.”

Then there was the four-person crew at Physical Plant Facilities who saw to it that the road leading to ML was “probably the best-plowed road in Boulder County,” according to maintenance manger Dave Soule. The four men— Rich Johnson, Patrick Ryan, Keith White, and Robert Yale—put in 12- to 16-hour shifts throughout the storm.

As for Carol and Ron, they began learning their fate on Tuesday afternoon when shift replacements called to say they could not make it into work. The storm dumped two to three feet of snow in most Boulder and Denver areas and more than five feet in some of the upper foothills, making roads impassible.

Since UCAR has an around-the-clock security presence, the two officers had to stay at their posts. Fortunately, Carol had packed a toothbrush and extra clothing, and Ron always prepares for emergencies because, “I expect the worst.” The cafeteria dropped off a generous supply of food.

Carol and Ron had little time to relax. The phones, which had been forwarded from the operators, rang frequently as staffers called to check whether the organization was open Wednesday. (It was a snow day.) The security officers conducted their regular rounds, and they had to prevent skiers, snowboarders, and sledders from taking advantage of the snow-covered (but off-limits) hill leading up to the mesa.

Additional officers put in long hours to ensure a strong security presence, sometimes walking on foot patrol through the deep snowdrifts by UCAR buildings. Some overcame daunting commutes, such as Clifford Waller, who drove three hours from Golden.

When Carol finally returned home late Wednesday afternoon, “I ate and crashed. I felt like I had been on some kind of survival TV show. I had never pushed myself that hard.”

Ron, a retired Marine, said he used to put in even longer shifts when necessary. But he allowed that returning to his house was “a good feeling.”

With the snowstorm over, the two returned to ML for their regular shift the next day. •David Hosansky

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Snow day

While a skeleton crew kept things running, most staffers got to enjoy a snow day on Wednesday, 20 March, courtesy of the region’s biggest snowstorm since 1913.


After some digging, Heidi Godsil (COMET) can finally see the hood of her SUV outside of her home near Nederland. (Photo by Scott Godsil.)

The slow-moving storm dropped more almost two feet of dense, wet snow in Boulder, about three feet in downtown Denver and nearby suburbs, and some five to seven feet in upper foothill towns such as Nederland. A double-barreled low pressure center—two lobes rotating around a main vortex—produced snow for roughly twice as long as most Front Range winter storms, from late Monday into Wednesday.

By then, the white stuff had paralyzed much of the region. Schools, government offices, and stores shut down; RTD suspended bus service; and Denver International Airport grounded all planes.

It was the first time in five years that weather curtailed UCAR hours. The previous closure was 27 March 1998, when Foothills Lab staffers could work only a half day because of flooding on Mitchell Lane.

The snow began a steady melt on Thursday, as temperatures approached 40°F.

As inconvenient as the storm was, it brought much-needed moisture to the area. In fact, the unusually wet snow was the equivalent of about five to seven inches of rain—more than one-quarter the average annual total and equivalent to some of the biggest precipitation events in Front Range records. Still, much of the state missed out: severe to extreme drought continues over the majority of Colorado, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Never mind the tulips. Late March brought wintry weather to Boulder, including the biggest snowstorm in 90 years and, a week later, these large flakes by Foothills Lab.

Also in this issue...

Karyn Sawyer weighs in on bombs, eels, and other career diversions

ACD Studies Globe-Trotting Chemicals

A better fit: Jeffco to get new hangar

Refurbishment update: ML Library will move temporarily

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