(Don't) Let it Snow

Is Denver International Airport ready for a repeat of the 2006 blizzard?


Airports are a necessary evil even in the best of times. But when they get 20 to 22 inches of snow and gale-force winds, at holiday time, and are forced to close for 45 hours—all of which happened to Denver International Airport three years ago next month—airports become a giant clog in the artery that is our interconnected 21st-century air-travel system.

In the aftermath of the Great Blizzard of '06, DIA commissioned a $200,000, independent report to assess the airport's failings, which read in part: "The snow events of December 2006 at DIA cost both the airlines and the airport millions of dollars and tarnished the reputation of an otherwise world-class airport." Fortunately, much of what the report recommended in terms of practical upgrades was implemented by DIA over the past couple of years. The airport's totally revamped snow plan includes hiring extra contract workers to clear snow, creating guidelines to focus on critical areas (like keeping three runways open instead of five or six), and investing in 30-plus multifunction snow machines, each of which can plow, broom, and blow snow.

So, have the changes left DIA ready for the next big dump? "Yes," says DIA spokesman Chuck Cannon. "But there's a caveat: If Mother Nature drops one and a half to two inches of snow an hour and whips up 40 mph winds, you just can't operate an airport." We get that. But here's hoping the snazzy new snow plan also includes some instruction on how to alleviate the ridiculously confusing security lines, the complete disorganization at the ticket counters, and the total lack of communication between passengers and DIA personnel we experienced the last time DIA took a sucker punch from Old Man Winter. —GVD