Base recovers from winter blast

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Siuta B. Ika
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
The storm that gripped the entire state and brought bone-chilling temperatures Feb. 1 through Feb.6 continues to effect communities throughout the state, including Holloman, almost a month after it has past.

The record-breaking low temperatures brought by the storm left tens of thousands of homes and businesses throughout New Mexico without electricity, water or gas for days.

"The temperatures were extreme," said Dorothy Molina, Soaring Heights Communities property manager. "There was so much snow ... Some people have said it was the worst weather conditions the community had ever seen."

According to the 49th Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight, four days of the storm set record-lows for the Holloman area, with Feb. 3 registering the coldest day in history for the area in the month of February at 18 degrees below zero.

"Our normal low for February is 28," said Jimmie Worley, 49th Civil Engineer Squadron Infrastructure superintendent. "Our facilities just aren't built for that kind of cold. We had 145 buildings in the industrial area of the base that suffered some sort of damage from freezing."

With all of the damaged facilities, the 49th CES couldn't afford to take a snow day.

"We were working 12-hour days, per person, and we had pretty much the whole squadron up and running," said Senior Master Sgt. Timothy Miles, 49th CES Operations superintendent. "We had crews running 24/7 that were responsible for identifying buildings with water damage and fixing the problems in those buildings."

Because of all the water breaks, water usage on base soared. The local community, where the source of Holloman's water lies, was experiencing shortages of its own.

"We get our water from Alamogordo," said Mr. Worley. "But they were having water issues themselves, so we had to switch to strictly running off of our wells. When the breaks started happening, our water production went from 800 gallons per minute to 3,000 gallons per minute, so just imagine that extra 2,200 gallons of water pumping every minute filling and ultimately damaging facilities."

In addition to the water problems, the base, much like the rest of the state, also had complications with its gas.

"The New Mexico Gas Company contacted us and told us they were having issues with their gas line," said Sergeant Miles. "They told us we needed to shut down certain areas of the base to avoid them shutting down the entire base."

"We had to figure out which facilities would endure the least amount of damage from the gas being off," said Master Sgt. William Speyrer, 49th CES Heavy Repair superintendent. "We knew when we shut the gas off in a facility, there's a possibility there's going to be damage there. We had to choose which facilities were priority facilities and shut off the gas to the rest, because if we didn't, the whole base was going to go down. But we knew when the gas gets shut off, there's going to be consequences behind that."

The consequences, in this case, have an early estimate of more than $3 million for damage caused by water breaks and lack of heat, said Mr. Worley.

Facility managers play a crucial role in their facility's adequacy, and can help prevent damage within their facilities, said Sergeant Speyrer.

"Facility managers need to be more engaged in their facilities during times like these," he said. "They play a vital role, because if they were there, they could have reported damages to us before they became problems. We truly appreciate the efforts of those facility managers that did come in and report the damages they had in their buildings. We were able to deal with the situations before they escalated."

Having a plan in place, for any situation, is always important, said Mr. Worley. The 49th CES was in-place and ready to go in case the base suffered a mass power-outage, he said.

"We never had our electricity shut off, but we were positioning generators throughout the base in case the base did lose power," said Mr. Worley.

"We had generators wired-in and ready to go at the fitness center and at the Community Activity Center," said Sergeant Speyrer. "We wanted to make sure the base populace would have a place to go with electricity in the event the power went out."

Although electricity was never lost, the weather took its toll on the residential housing area as well.

"We had 440 service requests during that six day span," said Ms. Molina. "The maintenance team is still fixing the damage the storm left. Thankfully there's not any permanent damage."

Despite being only a few weeks removed from the storm, 85 percent of water has been restored to the base, said Mr. Worley. Also, thanks in large part to the efforts of the 49th CES, the base's day-to-day operations were able to resume, without delay, when the storm passed.

"That's probably the biggest thing," he said. "The commander said 'We will fly airplanes on Monday, Feb.7' and we did everything to ensure that the flying mission was restored."