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These Mauna Kea ‘snowmen’ work in blizzards and whiteouts to clear a path to the summit

Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 4:51 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 3, 2022 at 4:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Huge white sheets of snow being blasted off roadways by a giant snow blower is a scene you expect to see in states where snow plow operators work ― not in Hawaii.

But it’s one of the jobs Tracy Miyashiro does on the highest mountain in the 50th state.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be working up here,” he said.

The Hilo native is the senior staffer on the Maunakea Support Services Utility team.

When nature dumps snow on the mountain, he and his co-workers drive the heavy equipment that clears a path all the way to the 14,000-foot summit.

“It takes a toll on your body. I feel it. Over the years I have felt it. The newer guys now, they feel it. Not everybody can work up on the summit or at this elevation,” he said.

Miyashiro has worked on Mauna Kea since 1985. He and his team performs their duties in extreme conditions.

“I’m pretty sure with the windchill factor, it’ll go below zero,” he said.

The roads need to be cleared for the astronomers and personnel who work at the telescopes on the summit. Weather reports and a camera feed give the snow crew an idea of what to expect, but sometimes they go in blind because the cameras are covered with ice.

Miyashiro has driven his snow blower during whiteouts and blizzards.

“I’ve been up there in conditions where you’re lucky if you can see 10 feet in front of you,” he said.

The University of Hawaii began employing snow removal workers on Mauna Kea in the 1970s. The job hasn’t changed but today’s equipment is better.

“It made our job a lot easier, because now we have two blowers instead of one,” Miyashiro said. “It cuts down the amount of time it takes us to remove the snow.”

Miyashiro has worked on snow drifts as high as 14 feet. One year, snow fell on Mauna Kea every month except for July.

“That was kind of interesting for me. I was like, ‘It’s summer. It’s snowing? Really?’ But hey, Mother Nature,” he said.

He had some snow removal experience before he got the job. He cleared snow from military bases where he was stationed at during his Army service.

“That’s why I was thinking I would never get back into doing snow removal again. Little did you know, I’m doing it again,” he said.

When he’s traveling and mainlanders ask Miyashiro what he does for a living in Hawaii, they can’t believe his answer.

“They look at me very puzzled. Then I have to show them pictures that show, ‘Yes, it does snow in Hawaii,” he said.

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