Connect to share and comment

Arlanda: The airport that never closes

In Stockholm, a fleet of snowplows keeps the runways clear.

Stockholm Arlanda Snow Plows
Eight snowplows clear the runway at the cargo terminal of Arlanda Airport in Stockholm on Dec. 19, 2010. (Anders Wiklund/SCANPIX/AFP/Getty Images)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — First Brussels and Paris fell. Frankfurt and London joined them as weary travelers spent Christmas camping on the hard terminal floors.

As a blizzard hit the the United States' East Coast, Newark and Boston shut down, even though the northeast United States habitually sees this much snow.

But in Stockholm, the planes kept moving. In fact, since Stockholm's Arlanda International has never closed because of snow since it opened in 1962.

Unusually cold, snowy weather has hit Europe this month, in some cases, breaking records. But the weather suffered in Ireland or France doesn't hold a candle to the chill in Sweden.

Many areas in the Scandinavian nation have experienced their coldest December since the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute opened in 1873. Stockholm has experienced the coldest December since 1788. The snow depth by the airport is 15 inches right now ; some winters it grows taller than 25 inches. Yet the airport has not closed.

How do the Swedes do it? First of all, the airport employs a crew of 130 people to fight the ice during the worst of winter. They use a fleet a Volvo vehicles including several that combine combine plowing, sweeping and blowing machines. The fleet is integrated with other airport traffic and given time slots for arrival and departure, just like planes are.

Before those vehicles hit the tarmac,  a 24-foot-wide plow clears most of the snow. In the middle of the plow is a cylinder that sweeps away snow and ice; the back of the machine carries a blow unit with a force of 130 meters per second. Nine vehicles travel side-by-side down the airport’s main runway, cleaning the two-mile long and 150-foot-wide area in 10 minutes.