Friday, February 13, 2015

Remember the Buffalo!

As of the writing of this article, the snow blower has just been put away and the snow continues to fall. That does not exactly narrow down the timeframe much around here lately does it? This winter came in like a lamb in New England, and apparently Mother Nature is trying to make up for lost time. Late February may offer superintendents something to look forward to.  In just a short time, many in the Northeast will attend the Golf Industry Show and are very much looking forward to San Antonio. With temperatures in the 60-70 degree range, it will be a welcomed respite from the snow. But as we prepare to visit the Riverwalk, perhaps this is a good time to not just remember the Alamo, but the Buffalo!

Think that is a strange reference? Imagine this:  areas of Massachusetts have recorded more than 60 inches of snow in the last four weeks. The folks just south of Buffalo recorded that in just two days, with some spots in the region topping off at 7 feet in just four November days. I had the pleasure of visiting four Buffalo-area superintendents the same day winter storm Juno began to dump snow on the greater Boston area.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. It was scary,” was the opening salvo from Drew Thompson, superintendent of East Aurora CC, and 20-year-member of GCSAA.

Thompson was the winner in the snow total sweepstakes, having accumulated 6 feet at his home and 7 feet at the course. Joining Thompson were superintendent colleagues Gale Hultquist, CGCS, of Wanakah Country Club and a 37-year GCSAA member; Robert Kelly, CGCS, of Orchard Park CC, a 24-year GCSAA member; and  Eric Tuchols of Harvest Hill GC, an 11-year GCSAA member, all of whom put their course totals at or near 5 to 6 feet of snow.

The weather event was confined to a narrow path and began on Monday, Nov. 17. The final snowfall stopped during the afternoon of Nov. 21. A rare weather pattern of very cold air moving across the warm water of the Great Lakes created the flow of moisture. The fact that the wind direction hardly ever shifted kept the bulls-eye on the area just south of Buffalo.
No epic snowfall at the Tuchols residence in Amherst, NY.
(Photo by Eric Tuchols)

Getting around during the event was a challenge. Tuchols got 3 inches of snow at his home less than 20 miles from Orchard Park, the golf course location.

“I got a dusting and when I drove into it, it was holy cow,” he said.

He notes that he stayed off major highways and was stopped by police and the National Guard on his way to the course. Thompson’s description of his commute to the club on Wednesday was a little more colorful: “It was apocalyptic.  There were abandon cars all over the road, it was eerie.”

Kelly didn’t get to Orchard Park CC until Friday morning.

“I woke up on Tuesday and the snow was up to the door handles of my truck,” he said. “My GM called me because he wanted me to come in, but they hadn’t done my cul-de-sac.  I could have got to the end of my driveway but there were four or five feet of snow there too.”

Removal was equally challenging. The initial snow was extremely wet and heavy making plowing nearly impossible when more snow piled on top of it.

“We stayed on it from the time it started until the time it ended,” Thompson said while noting cars using the cleared out club entrance created issues. They got one truck stuck avoiding the vehicles, which they eventually removed, only to get it stuck again later in the storm.
It took a loader to reach the clubhouse at Wanakah.
CC in Hamburg, NY. (Photo by Gale Hultquist)

“It was a storm for big pay loaders not little trucks,” said Hultquist.

Hultquist was fortunate enough to gain the services of two such pieces of equipment. One contractor asked to park his low-boy trailer at the club, which was a short distance from the property he was hired to maintain. That individual made a pass through the club, and another contractor working for area members also made two passes through the club property giving the staff a critical start to the clearing process. In all, Thompson got both his plow trucks stuck, and a staff member at Wanakah got his stuck too.

Mother Nature delivered these superintendents some one-of-a-kind issues as well. Thompson and East Aurora operate a pump that is designed to regulate the water table in an adjacent wetlands area. In addition to keeping part of the property from remaining under water for the entire spring season, the pump keeps part of the Village of East Aurora from incurring water related damage. So what happens when seven feet of snow shows up? The monitoring software showed the pump station has faulted. The location is on the other side of the golf course and plowing in was not an option. Knowing that a large melt down was imminent, Thompson had to walk in with snow up to his mid chest.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said. “You are walking through it (snow) and your feet aren’t even touching the ground, it is like quicksand. I sat in the pump house for an hour and a half. I called the guys at the shop on the radio and told them they had to bring the loader in to rescue me. My wife reminds me all the time that I say that pump will be the death of me.” 

Kelly was in the process of installing a new pump station at Orchard Park CC, and the intake was not in place. He was faced with working to empty his irrigation pond again after the snow melt filled it to capacity. Kelly had to buy 400 feet of drainage tile to divert the water away from neighbors, rent a 6-inch pump and run it constantly for four days.

Tuchols was very nervous about not having his snow mold
protection down.  Easy to see why! (Photo by Eric Tuchols)
Tuchols faced challenges at Harvest Hill as well.

“I had no snow mold protection down when the storm hit,” he said.

With a course buried under nearly 6 feet of snow, that had to be a sick feeling. Fortunately the rapid melt down began on Sunday following the storms at which point Tuchols knew he would get his chance. Most of the course melted off naturally and after two days of shoveling the shaded greens off, the final application was made.

The towns south of Buffalo saw temperatures spike into the low 70s following the epic snowfall, and as quickly as it came, it was gone. They also missed the predicted rain that would have created massive complications due to flooding. These days, New England continues to get pelted with snow and constant low temperatures.  Stories of the challenges faced by others won’t do anything to lighten the mood. What it might do is shed some light on the perseverance necessary to not only survive, but to thrive as a golf course superintendent in the Northeast region. While I hope to see you in sunny San Antonio, I definitely don’t look forward to the shoveling I will probably have to do upon my return.

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