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Snow plows remove the snow from main roads aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico on March 6.

Photo by Cpl. Antwaun Jefferson

Snow plows and the shovel brigade: preparing for winter weather

29 Jan 2015 | Eve A. Baker Marine Corps Base Quantico

The average annual snowfall for the town of Quantico is 14.1 inches, according to In comparison, Fargo, North Dakota, receives an average of 52 inches annually, and Syracuse, New York — America’s snowiest city — receives an average of 126.3 inches of snow annually, according to a recent article by

While snowfall is certainly less frequent and severe here in Quantico, compared to places like Fargo or Syracuse and other points north, even the slightest bit of snow or ice on the road can pose a traffic hazard. This is why numerous agencies aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico attend the base’s annual snow preparations and coordination meeting in the fall and are tasked with responsibilities in the base order on snow emergency operations. Elton Rupe, operations officer for GF Branch, said “snow removal is a joint effort” and that all units help out during a snow storm.

When snow and ice are forecast, Rupe said Facilities Maintenance will often pre-treat key areas along the roadways such as hills, curves, intersections and bridges with a mixture of salt and sand. Actual plowing does not typically begin until two inches of snow have accumulated on the ground.

When the accumulation threshold has been reached, snow removal operations begin. According to John Dorsey, deputy Public Works officer, the Public Works Department operates 15 pieces of equipment with a plow or salt/sand spreader attachments, and G-4 operates four to five more trucks with plow/spreader attachments. Dorsey said Marine Corps Air Facility owns its own equipment, as does the FBI Academy. Lincoln Military Housing contracts out their snow removal, and the Russell Knox Building utilizes a NAVFAC contract for their snow removal.

Dorsey said that Public Works has 20 licensed snow plow operators who can operate in shifts of 12-15 employees at a time. Work shifts can last anywhere from eight to 16 hours per shift, depending on the size of the snow event. Dorsey recalled that during the “Snowmaggedon” of 2010 there were two to three storms in a row, one of which dumped 24-36 inches on the base, necessitating around-the-clock snow removal for several days. Dorsey said the plow operators do earn quite a bit of overtime pay during large snow events, and at times contract support is still needed to finish the job.

When snow is forecast, Dorsey said the procedure is to bring the removal teams in one to two hours in advance of the forecasted start time and to have them open the salt and sand domes and prepare trucks. With approximately 140 miles of roads that are two lanes or greater, it can take a significant amount of time to get to certain areas. Marine Corps Base Order 11210.1E identifies the following priorities for snow removal:

1. Snow Emergency Routes

2. Access to main headquarters buildings, essential service areas and secondary roads

3. Residential areas

4. Parking lots

5. Road shoulder clearance and removal of snow piles

Snow emergency routes are the main roads on base and include, but are not limited to: Fuller, Russell, John Quick, Geiger, and Purvis roads, as well as MCB-1 and 2.

Public Works does not clear sidewalks, however. It is up to individual units and agencies to clear the sidewalks around their buildings. For example, according to the base order, Headquarters and Service Battalion maintains a “shovel brigade” — essentially a large number of Marines who are prepared to shovel snow—that will clear critical sidewalks and enable building access within the battalion’s area.

— Writer:

Marine Corps Base Quantico