Since May is still considered winter in Chicago, I thought it prudent to write about some of the common problems associated with installing critical equipment outdoors.

When I was young, my family would pack up the car and drive up to Bemidji, Minnesota, every year for Christmas at Grandma’s. It was a grueling drive, ten hours of white knuckle driving in severe winter storm weather conditions.

I was a young man of twelve in the winter of 1975 when I saw the biggest storm I would ever see in my lifetime. As the Schlattman family sat down to our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of oyster stew and turkey, all of the kids were giddy with excitement for Santa and the fresh snow coming down outside. Little did I know, while Christmas morning would shower me with gifts, it would also turn out to be a young kid’s worst nightmare. Shoveling grandma out of 19 inches of snow drifting to over six and seven feet in certain areas is a memory I will never forget.


Just Getting Out Of Grandma’s House Was A Challenge

Just like the kid in Christmas Story, I too was dressed like I was ready to go deep sea diving. Seven layers of clothing, two hats, and a Doctor Who scarf that wrapped around my neck six times was the normal winter attire for a boy of 12 years old at the time.

After getting dressed, we proceeded to the enclosed back porch to find the door completely incapable of moving due to the snow drift outside. My older brother, happy to hand the shoveling tradition down to me, was able to open the back porch window enough to push me out into the snow. My face hit the snow first, and the rest of my body disappeared into the five foot drift that awaited me.


Gaining Access To Your Data Center Equipment During A Storm

Often companies will choose to use air cooled chillers mounted on the roof or exterior generators in housings. Here are a few of the issues concerning winter storms and equipment:

  • Roof hatches are often covered in snow and difficult to open during winter storms.
  • Drifting around chiller equipment limits access in the event of non-startup.
  • Air cooled chillers have a difficult time starting in temperatures below 0˚F.
  • Drifting can affect generator housing door hatches, as well as step access on canopies.
  • Louvers may be frozen shut or blocked, preventing your exterior generator from starting.

Grandma’s Shoveled Out But Still Can’t Go Anywhere

Grandma’s garage was about 30 yards from her house, and it took about two hours to shovel there from her back porch. After I cleared my way to the garage, I proceeded to shovel the back to the snow filled alley way. I then realized, after all of my shoveling, we still needed to rely on the city plow to clear her alley. After, I would still have to shovel the mounds of snow the plow would create in the freshly shoveled driveway.

I spent most of my morning shoveling with little avail.


Relying On Others During A Storm

The standard size for a diesel fuel belly tank on a generator is 3,000 gallons. In some cases, companies bury larger tanks to support the exterior generator, giving them more hours of run time. During a large snow storm, a 3,000 gallon tank will provide approximately 24 hours of run time for a 2.5MW generator. However, in the event that you run out of fuel in a large storm, it may take additional time to get trucks out to refuel, as we saw in Hurricane Sandy. This, combined with relying on your utility company to restore service and employees being able to get to the data center, creates obstacles that you need to plan for. Transferring from utility to generators prior to the storm is always considered best practice too.

Three years later, we did the same exhausting trip to Grandma’s in Bemidji. However, when we got there Grandma had bought a new ranch home with an attached garage. It was even heated! I then recognized that problems can be eliminated through design.

Oh … and a snow-blower too!!