Airport snow

Air Force C-17s sit grounded at Joint Base Charleston, beyond the icy windows of Charleston International Airport on Jan. 5, after a rare snowstorm shut down the runways and stranded passengers. File/Wade Spees/staff

It was 85 degrees at the Charleston International Airport on Thursday afternoon, but officials were thinking about snow — mainly how to keep it from shutting down the runways next time it blankets the Lowcountry.

The last snowfall arrived in January, when a rare winter storm dumped 5 inches on the region. The icy runways closed Jan. 3 and didn’t reopen until Jan. 7.

More than 400 commercial flights were canceled during the four-day shutdown, stranding travelers and prompting a public outcry.

The problem was that Joint Base Charleston, which owns the runways, didn’t have a plan for clearing snow. After five months of discussions by a task force formed after the storm, it now has one.

The base and the Charleston County Aviation Authority signed a formal memorandum of understanding on Thursday to address airfield snow and ice removal.

The plan does not include buying equipment to clear snow, Charleston airports director Paul Campbell said. Instead, contractors will be put on retainer to bring out plows and other equipment when needed. That’s a more cost-effective plan in an area where snow and ice storms are rare occurrences, he said.

“That was a 30-year storm,” Campbell said. “Imagine if we spent $100,000 purchasing equipment and it sat there for 30 years before we used it again.”

He also said that at least "several" businesses in the Charleston area are capable of handling the job.

"There are paving contractors, land-clearing contractors who have the right kind of equipment,” Campbell said.

And for the first time, the airport will start storing chemicals that are used to de-ice runways, he said.

The memorandum was signed by Campbell and Col. Jeff Nelson, the commander of the 628th Air Base Wing at Joint Base Charleston.

Representatives of the air base and airport will meet in the fall to review the plan and make sure everybody understands it, Nelson said. If the threat of a snowstorm appears likely, a control command center will be set up to coordinate activities.

Boeing Co, which makes the 787 Dreamliner near the base and airport, also uses the runways.

Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.