Sept. 01--EGLIN AFB -- Forget about Tropical Storm Fred -- today's forecast calls for lots of sunshine and two to three inches of snow.
The white stuff is courtesy of the McKinley Climatic Laboratory, that massive building across from the flight line that manages to produce more weather phenomena than Jim Cantore and all of his Weather Channel friends could cover in a lifetime.
On Tuesday, snow covered the floor of the lab's main testing chamber at the request of Goodyear, who are in town for two weeks to put their newest model tires through their paces. The tire maker is just one of dozens of private companies which utilize the lab throughout the year.
Although headquartered in Akron, Ohio, which gets more than its share of snow each winter, the company's test engineers have been coming to Eglin for decades to test their products.
"At Goodyear, testing is a year-round requirement," said engineer Steve Guba. "Coming down here allows us to test in a controlled environment where we can count on having the conditions we need."
Kevin Cogan, the senior engineer at the lab, is responsible for making sure those conditions are met. On Thursday, that meant keeping the cavernous building at a steady 10 degrees, and the level of snow a firmly packed two to three inches.
"We have about 990 tons of refrigerant stored here that's used to cool down the chamber," Cogan explained. "We also have three commercial snow makers, like the kind they use at ski resorts. We can make dry snow, wet snow, or whatever the client wants."
While snow tires might not be needed in this part of the country, there's plenty of demand in other parts of the world for the special models being tested on Tuesday. Using a specially modified truck that towed the test tire, technician Don Hartline entered some info on a computer screen and then took off across the snow-covered floor.
"The biggest challenge is keeping the speed at five miles per hour," Hartline said as the tires made a crunching sound across the snow-packed floor.
As drops of snow occasionally fell from the rafters of the giant test chamber, the Goodyear technicians and engineers watched as two of the trucks made continuous loops across the frozen floor. While local media types shivered in parkas, the folks from Akron walked around in sweatshirts as if it were a balmy summer day.
"That's why we like coming back here," Guba said with a laugh. "When the day's over, you can go outside and warm up."
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