Tenerife from the Snow

El Teide, TenerifeThe road to Tenerife is paved with four inches of snow. At least, that was the case for this trip. So while the warmth of the largest Canary Island waited off the coast of Morocco, my plane sat in the Brussels airport buried in snowflakes. At first it seemed just a minor delay – only a half hour waiting for the bus to take us to the Airbus A320. Brussels had seen snow before, I reminded myself, and this didn’t seem like that much. The snow coming in on the train was fluffy; beautiful, in fact. Okay, it was cold, even frigid, but a little ice is easy to handle. No matter, we were ready to board the transport.

“Excusez-moi, Mesdames et Messieurs.” “Neem me niet kwalijk, dames en heren.”

This can’t be good, I thought. The announcement repeated over the airport intercom. Somehow the mere introduction, in French and Dutch, was enough to create a wave of incredulous groaning from the passengers impatiently dawdling in the concourse. We all knew what was coming.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we regret to inform you that the airport is now closed because of the weather. We will keep you posted as to when the status changes. Thank you.”

The next three hours seemed like forever. The din from hundreds of disgruntled travelers calling their bosses, spouses, paramours, and travel agents was deafening. No one was happy, but then in oft-rainy Brussels no one ever seems to be happy. Most of us wandered around, looking to see if anyone else was taking off (they weren’t) or giving up and leaving the airport (they were). I had an overnight stopover in Madrid, so knowing that I had some time to kill anyway, decided to stick it out, keeping myself company watching the television monitor documenting the snowfall accumulations.

Somehow I survived, though whether it was despite not having a cell phone of my own, or because of it, I can’t be sure. All I remember is that eventually we were told to board the bus, which took fifteen minutes to snake around the entire terminal (possibly twice) before letting us off about 50 feet from the plane. The slog through snow drifts at least a foot deep, and the climb up the slippery steps to the fuselage, was a challenge. Then more time waiting our turn at the de-icing station where we spent another ten minutes under a waterfall of what I knew from experience was not the most innocuous of chemicals. I didn’t care; we were off the ground. Tenerife or bust.

I found out later that I was in the last plane to leave Brussels that day. Only six planes took off, the rest were stranded; some as long as two days. Ironically, on my first day in the tropical paradise I would discover that Tenerife also boasted frigid cold and snow. But that’s another story.

Check out this earlier look at The Orchids of Tenerife.

[More on Tenerife and other science travel coming soon. Reposted from Hot White Snow.]

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in spring 2016.

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7 thoughts on “Tenerife from the Snow

  1. Getting stuck at an airport is one of the best reasons for having access to a lounge. 😉

    Made me think of reading a book, back in high school… Victor Belenko’s account of defecting from the USSR with a Mig-25 (“Mig Pilot,” I think it was titled). As I recall, he described Soviet de-icing as being done with pure ethyl-alcohol — often in mysteriously short supply. However, I can imagine there was no problem getting volunteers for the de-icing crews.

    • Main ingredients are either propylene or ethylene glycol, but the mixture has a lot of other stuff in it too. During my career I evaluated the toxicity and ecotoxicity of many of the chemicals. Which is why airports are supposed to now collect the deicing stream instead of just draining it off into the local watershed.

      Unfortunately, no lounge for me. I got out with what was only a short delay given that some people camped out there for two days.

      My arrival in Tenerife (after Xmas eve in frozen Madrid) was welcomed by warm and humid air, but as I drove up onto El Teide it got colder and colder until the top (just short of which was reached by gondola) was so covered in ice and snow we weren’t allowed to hike the rest of the way up. More on that story in the future.

      • Ethylene glycol… the problem out here is that marmots and martens can apparently smell it in automobile coolant, mistake it for something sweet, and then chew through radiator hoses to get at the stuff — unfortunately lethally. I can imagine that simply letting it drain into a watershed is definitely not good.

        I think the last time I sat through a de-ice was in Salt Lake City… just after Christmas (I don’t recommend Christmas in Utah).

        That said, I’m sure the corn industry would be delighted to supply all the ethyl alcohol airports might want. Of course, that could also be interesting if it started showing up in the water — especially in Utah.

        • I’ll actually be in Utah (in Salt Lake City) early in November. No plans to do Christmas there (or any other time after this).

          I did work with the corn industry trade associations too. Tons of fun stuff.

          The marmot and marten thing is disconcerting. Not withstanding the hose hassles, it just shows that when we invade the habitats of wild animals it’s usually them that get the pointed end of the stick.

  2. Pingback: The Hot and the Cold Climate of Tenerife | Science Traveler

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