Dallas-Fort Worth Airport Operational Changes to Manage Extreme Snow and Ice Events

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) has introduced maintenance and operations procedures for snow and ice removal in cases of unusual snow events that would limit the airport’s role as one of the world’s busiest airports.  After experiencing a large snow and ice storm in 2011, DFW could not handle the snow-clearing needs to keep the airport operating at full capacity. The storm occurred right before the Super Bowl in 2011, halting the flow of thousands of visitors using the airport for travel and bringing attention to the need to better manage severe winter storms. The operational changes are helping DFW reduce travel disruptions by better preparing for and responding more quickly during severe winter snow and ice storms, which may occur more frequently under future climate conditions.

The problems with snow and ice on the runways arose when the area received 2.6 inches of snow on February 4, 2011, two days before the Super Bowl, a very busy travel time for the airport. More than 300 flights were cancelled due to lack of runway and taxiway access, as only one of the seven runways could be cleared of ice and snow. Although a snow storm in North Texas is not unusual in February, this particular storm followed a rare several consecutive days of freezing temperatures as well as an ice storm that had left ice on the ground a few days prior, already creating operational challenges for the airport. 

Following the 2011 storm, DFW reevaluated its operations for dealing with snow and ice, and found several deficiencies in their equipment, including ineffective and aged plows designed for use on roads, not runways.  In addition to evaluating its own capacity for managing winter storms, the airport looked to other airports that frequently deal with snow and ice storms all over the country.  As a result of its evaluation, DFW upgraded its snow and ice removal equipment, which now allows operations and maintenance staff to clear three runways in 14 minutes for a 2-inch snow event. This was a significant improvement from the previous snow and ice removal equipment, which had not been upgraded for over 25 years and could only clear one runway per hour after applying deicer. The operational and equipment changes were designed to help DFW meet new objectives set after the 2011 severe storm, which included the ability to clear all select runways in one hour and to be prepared for back-to-back 2-inch snow or ice storm events.

DFW also updated its Winter Weather Operations Manual, which sets a series of procedures and objectives for managing winter weather events including snow and ice removal. To keep operations running, it also focuses on monitoring runway friction changes and pavement conditions. The following principles were developed for managing snow and ice removal on the runways:

  • Windblown snow should be removed completely and quickly.
  • Snow bank height should be monitored to prevent view obstructions.
  • Snow removal will begin when snow begins to accumulate on road surfaces.
  • A runway will be closed if there is ½ inch of slush or 2 inches of dry snow accumulated.

In the years following the 2011 storm, DFW has also invested in equipment for snow and ice removal in preparation for expected severe winter events. The ice storm of 2013 left 1.25 inches of ice on runways, leading the airport to prepare better for coming storms. In 2014, the airport spent $7 million on equipment to pre-treat runways and roads, which helps to prevent ice from bonding to the surfaces, easing its removal. In late 2015, the airport also approved an additional $26 million to purchase more snow broom trucks, icebreaker attachments, and other equipment for snow and ice removal. These investments are expected to arrive in late 2016 and will allow the airport to clear both east and west side runways simultaneously, increasing runway capacity much faster under moderate freezing conditions.


This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on March 28, 2016.


Publication Date: 2011


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