MAUI, Hawaii — The 20th Space Control Squadron Detachment 3 is located on the Hawaiian island of Maui. When most people think of Hawaii, they picture warm, sandy beaches and tropical landscapes. While that is true for most of Hawaii, there are areas that can be very different. Take the location of the 20th SPCS Det 3 on top of the 10,000 foot dormant volcano of Haleakala. On Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, we experienced a severe ice storm. Yes, you read that right, an ice storm on Maui.
Haleakala is no stranger to cold weather and generally receives a light dusting of snow a few times a year. Maui, however, has not seen an ice storm this extreme in decades. Freezing rain, snow, and 50 mph winds covered the entire site in 3-6 inches of ice and brought operations to a grinding halt.
Once the storm relented on Monday, the Det 3 team worked to evaluate the damage and restore operations to the Ground-Based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance system. Luckily, damage was limited to a few broken lightning rods, but the three telescope towers were coated in several inches of ice. The domes were covered with so much ice that the access doors were frozen shut. After gaining access to one of the telescope towers, it became clear the ice was not going to let us resume operations that evening. We would have to wait for Mother Nature to reverse her actions and let the ice melt.
Tuesday gave us sunny skies and melting ice. The team began chipping and removing ice from the facility, working all day to dislodge and clear hundreds of pounds of ice. Despite our best efforts, some ice remained out of reach and firmly attached to the exterior domes. Operations were still not possible.
Wednesday brought warmer weather that continued to assault the ice. The receding ice finally allowed us to access our third telescope tower to continue clearing operations. By midday, we were able to begin operational checks to ensure the system was undamaged by the ice’s immense weight. By the evening, we were able to resume our critical space domain awareness mission.
In reflection, we must recognize the team of people that allowed Det 3 to remain safe and quickly restore GEODSS operations. The 20th SPCS Det 3’s host base, Air Force Research Lab’s Det 15, provided continuous on-site security, power and infrastructure support. The team from the Haleakala National Park worked to maintain safe access to the facility by clearing roads and limiting traffic to essential personnel. The Space and Missile Systems Center and their support contractors supported operational checkouts and rapidly dispatched a repair team.
If your travel plans ever bring you to Maui, remember to check the weather and pack a jacket, just in case.