I have been pretty obsessed by the weather since I was a kid. I blame my big brother (photo escapist), who not only has a natural ability to attract lightening and tornadoes, but has also always known how to torment me. One summer morning, way back before the Internet, when cable was brand new, I was watching the weather channel. In its earliest stages, it was just a screen with the basic facts: temperature, wind direction and speed, humidity, etc. I was fascinated that the humidity was past 90% and asked my older, wiser brother what would happen if it hit 100%. With a very calm and serious tone, he said, “We all die.” And he left the room. Left me there to watch the number climb while I fretted, wishing my parents would come home before the inevitable so we could say good bye, wondering why the rest of the world wasn’t panicking with me.
So, freaking out over weather is no stranger to me. But let me tell you: I have nothing on DC. We shrug at anthrax, roll our eyes over yet another bomb threat, and don’t even look up from our mobile devices when the President goes by in a motorcade that includes sharp shooters and lots of big guns. But weather? DC loses its collective mind. This is true for bright sun (I’ve heard many traffic reports with bright sun warnings), wind (I’ve received e-mail reminding me with some urgency to secure any objects that might fly away!), rain, thunderstorms, and most of all, snow.
One of my first winters here, 6 or 7 years ago, there were lots of threats of snow. Every time the s word was in the forecast, everything for miles would shut down, from schools to grocery stores to the Federal Government. Every time, we’d hunker down and wait for the death and destruction and every time we would get a dusting or nothing at all. It was that winter I realized that this town is insane. We’ve learned since, though, and there is still a fair amount of hand wringing accompanying each snow prediction, along with the jokes about stocking up on toilet paper and milk, but we almost adopted the same shrugging cynicism about snow we have about pretty much anything else.
Until this year.
There are a number of reasons I won’t forget #snOMG this past December, not the least of which is the off-duty police officer who brought a gun to a snowball fight I was at with friends. That storm arrived on a Saturday morning and left us with a little over 16 inches. I was glued to the TV that morning, watching local coverage with reporters standing outside in the snow, telling us just how bad it was, interviewing people they could find to reiterate that it was really, really bad. There were also the weather guys out on their weather decks with their yardsticks periodically updating us in snowfall totals. All the while, of course, a long list of closings scrawled across the bottom of the screen. DC is so ill prepared for snow that the Federal Government was shut down the following Monday.
This past Wednesday, we got 3 or 4 inches over night. What amounts to a squall of lake-effect snow in my native Syracuse closed down area school districts and kept most of my colleagues home from work. DC’s mayor made a special announcement Wednesday morning about the snow removal efforts as the sun shone brightly and the streets were clear.
But nothing I have experienced in DC weather compares to the current fervor. Even before our mid-week snow event there were mumblings and rumblings among forecasters about a potential weekend storm. I held hope, but mostly dismissed it. Predictions that far out usually bust, and I didn’t think we could possibly be so lucky. Watching it unfold yesterday and today, though, has been utterly fantastic.
This was the prediction yesterday morning from @capitalweather:
“current probabilities put it at 55 percent chance of 6+. It COULD rival mid december”
and at lunchtime:
So, You guys probably expect me to say something about now… Still figuring out how to not sound scared and completly paniced. #bread #milk
PM Update: Big snow becoming likely: Winter Storm Watches already up for late-week storm
and last night:
Update: Confidence increasing in high snow totals: * Winter Storm Watch Friday morning through Saturday evening
When I got into work this morning, the whole office was abuzz with snow talk. By lunchtime, we had an e-mail from the head of internal services reminding us of our telework and emergency policies and admonishing us to stay home if it’s not safe. By mid afternoon, the Federal Government announced that they will be open tomorrow, but on “liberal leave” – basically, “you should stay home but we’re not going to pay you to.” By the time I was commuting home, the bus routes were already a mess (although … with WMATA, that could be just about anything), local school districts had started to close, and the snowfall prediction was up to at least 16 inches.
The height of pre-snow insanity, though, came via a series of reports on Twitter from folks around DC trying to stock up at grocery stores. Long lines and little left. typical in its own way, yes, but one person reported a wait to get into a Wegman’s parking lot, and another a half-hour line to get in to Whole Foods – not the parking lot, the store.
The biggest snowstorm on record for DC is January 27-28, 1922, which was 28 inches. Forecasters are saying tomorrow’s storm has the potential to beat that. I hope it does. If we do get as much as is predicted, my bet is that the Government will be shut down Monday, and maybe even Tuesday. I’m looking forward to continue to watch it unfold on TV and Twitter.