Sunday, February 12, 2006

When It Snows In Washington

We Washingtonians have a love-hate relationship with snow. All adults love the beauty of a local winder wonderland, and we teachers, as do students, love getting the day off “due to inclement weather.” The Washington area sometimes shuts down at the very threat of a flake! Other times, when only a few inches have come down, I’ve not had to report to work, only to be out and about later in the day, with absolutely no problem.

Truly, however, Washingtonians simply can’t drive in the white stuff, particularly if a mere inch covers the road surface. Drivers go too fast when they shouldn’t, thus sliding into all sorts of objects (I've lost track of how many times my fence has been damaged), and too slowly when they need to get up enough speed to make it up a hill. Even before the first flake falls, shoppers who fear they won’t be able to get to the grocery stores for weeks, an eventuality happens only on the rarest of occasions, stock up on milk, bread, and toilet paper. This stocking up is irrational—most of the time.

I say “most of the time” because our weather forecasters are notorious for their inaccuracy as to the amount of snow we can expect. The Blizzard of ’96 is a perfect example of what can happen around here. That year, we suffered as only Washington can suffer when the depth of snow far exceeds expectations and piles up to a full two feet. As a lifelong resident of this area, I should have known better than to be so credulous, but I made the mistake of believing the weatherman on that storm and had to beg toilet paper from my neighbor. Let me tell you, I found out firsthand that modern toilets, those environment-friendly water savers, aren’t any good at swallowing newspapers or paper towels. I had to borrow cat food as well. Believe me—it’s hell on earth if a cat owner is trapped in the house with three famished felines who don’t eat table treats.

The January 1996 Blizzard left us totally housebound for a full three days. The Washington area was completely paralyzed; even newspaper delivery failed. Of course, three days is not very long, but in that amount of time sanity suffers if one is cooped up with spouse and three stir-crazed cats. Watching television and talking on the phone go only so far when one is used to face-to-face contact with those outside the household.

We live only a few short feet off an essential artery. But when one has to shovel two feet of snow, those few feet are long; the task is made worse when little nearby space exists to toss the snow and has to walk several feet with shovelful after shovelful. During the Blizzard of ’96, we had no need to get to the unplowed main artery, but all the neighbors on this little sidestreet banded together and shoveled out. After we had labored for several hours, our vehicles could move, but, of course, beyond our side street no road surface had been plowed on which to drive. The situation was one of “all dressed up and no place to go.” We enviously watched skiers, the only ones moving on the road because no plows were in sight, make their way while the rest of us were trapped. Our depression deepened.

By the third day, we could no longer bear the isolation as the romanticism of being snowed in had degenerated into cabin fever. We donned our warmest gear and, in waist-deep snow, trudged the three and one-half blocks to the nearest pub. Once inside, all of us scattered to tables where sat our neighbors as we sought the companionship of those other than our loved ones. Returning home was tough, though—all uphill and with full bellies after all the nachos and French onion soup.

Spring of 1996 saw a surge in sales of the necessary blizzard equipment. Every single family I know has one of those gas-guzzling and expensive-to-repair four wheelers. Many families have snow blowers. A few even have generators or have bonded with those who have them—never mind that the power rarely goes during a snowstorm unless an ice storm materializes. We won’t risk being trapped again! Yet the I-might-get-trapped-without-a-bite-to-eat mentality remains. And those new to the area soon catch that attitude. People are like lemmings, after all.

This past weekend, we got a significant snowfall in Washington. This storm wasn’t a blizzard, and I can ascertain that fact because no skiers are out and because I haven’t missed a single newspaper delivery. But until the snow stopped falling, we didn’t know that this storm was going to be an ordinary one.

The day before this season's first storm was filled with the usual pre-storm excitement. Talk of the storm was on everyone’s lips. Remote controls surfed every weather channel, and a hush fell on the room every time the weatherman gave his forecast. The snowplows fired up, and, with great satisfaction, we watched them load up on every local newscast. Households checked their food stores and prepared food in bulk. From the freezer, I pulled the chili which I had frozen, as I do every year in anticipation of a blizzard. The temperatures were not low enough to worry about filling the bathtub, but in years past, I’ve taken that precaution as well.

Can you imagine what Washington would be like if we got the same amount of snow as Buffalo? The mind reels at the thought!

I wasn’t the least bit worried about this storm. I had on hand plenty of milk, bread, toilet paper, and cat food. My snow shovel and my cooking spray were ready to go, well in advance. All our snow-going vehicles were tuned up and road-worthy: the four wheeler and the pickup truck and the sedan with a positraction rear-end, and the Mustang convertible was tucked into the carport. We were prepared at every level! Besides, I’m self-employed and in control of my own schedule, so I don’t have to venture out onto the roads. And a snowstorm brings with it more time for blogging and a good excuse for a long afternoon nap.

The Sunday, February 12, 2006 home edition of the Washington Post brought the usual coverage of the storm in "Got Milk? And Bread and Shovels?":
"Winter reasserted itself over metropolitan Washington yesterday in the form of a powerful nor'easter that was forecast to yield the region's heaviest snow in three years.

"The storm sent residents racing to stores to stock up on supplies and shovels after an unseasonably warm January...."
Once again, the weather forecasters had to apologize this morning as they had revised downward and, therefore, underestimated the amount of snowfall because the storm was slow to materialize. The Washington Post's Sunday web-page update, "Major Snow Storm Pounds Washington Area," gave additional and satisfying particulars:
"A big-time snow storm pounded the Washington region overnight and this morning, dumping 20 inches of heavy wet snow in some locations and 8 or 9 inches elsewhere.

"The storm caused early morning power outages for thousands, disrupted travel by road, air and Metrorail but also brought joy to children across the region, who took to their sleds and saucers in droves and enjoyed what all described as perfect snowball snow, packing wet and tight into even the smallest hands.

"The storm, which began in earnest about 8 p.m. yesterday and spread quickly up the eastern seaboard, ended by noon. The heaviest accumulations, according to National Weather Service spotters, were north and west of the city, with Columbia reporting 21 inches, Baltimore-Washington Airport 11 inches, Norbeck 17 inches, and Silver Spring 11 inches.

"Northern Virginia communities such as Sterling and Leesburg got a foot of snow, Arlington 8 inches, and Reagan National Airport 8 inches.

"The depth tapered off to 7, 6 and 5 inches to the south and east of the District.

"Most Sunday activity involving any sort of travel was cancelled. There was no word on schools for Monday...."
As snowstorms go, this past weekend's wasn't much of an event, particularly in comparison to the Blizzard of '96. Within just a few hours of the storm's stoppage, what had accumulated on the road's surfaces started to melt, and bare pavement appeared. I didn't even have to clean off my car; the sun did the job for me. I'm not complaining, just wishing for another record snowfall, a whopper which would have justified all the precautions taken. Definitely a love-hate relationship.

31 Comments:

At 2/12/2006 6:31 PM, Blogger beakerkin said...

Consider yourself Lucky as it was -4 this morning no snow . The worst it has been so far is -12.

I was walking around the other day in a balmy 10.

I am going to wrap up The rest of Flynn's Why the Left Hates America this week.

I am reading an eye opener In Denial Historians Communism and Espionage by Klehr & Haynes. At some point I will have to break to review David Horrowitz's new book which should be here this week.

 
At 2/12/2006 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, AOW. I've got two feet in my driveway. Wanna shovel it.

 
At 2/12/2006 6:50 PM, Blogger Woody said...

I guess Bush is to blame for the blizzard as much as he is for global warming.

 
At 2/12/2006 6:58 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Beak,
So far, our winter here has been downright balmy. That's a blessing as the consumption of heating fuel is kept to a minimum. Once February is over, we won't get much more of the cold weather. But Easter is late this year, so we still can expect some icestorms.

I've had to put my political reading on hold. My class is studying Ivanhoe, and Stephen King's latest, Cell, is out. I have to admit, however, that King doesn't write anything as scary as what's going on in the world today; actually, he's said as much, since 9/11.

But before I started the above fiction-reading marathon, I managed to read Mark Alexander's A New Dark Age Is Dawning and Walid Phares' Future Jihad. When my schedule eases off a bit, I'll post a review of each of those.

As I think I mentioned at your blog, I also use The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History as a teacher resource for my history class.

My reading isn't as fast as it used to be. Unless I put on my reading glasses, I don't have binocular vision. I like to do most of my reading in bed, where eyeglasses are more trouble than they're worth.

Reading with one eye is much slower. But that lack of speed is a small price to pay for restored vision. For a time, I was completely blind in my left eye, due to an idiopathic cataract when I was 32 years old; cataract surgery and an intra-ocular implant gave me back the vision in my left eye.

I read all of your book reviews and sort of keep up in that way. I've started making my list for my summer reading.

 
At 2/12/2006 6:59 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Anonymous,
Two feet in your driveway? Well, if you were anywhere close, I'd be right over. I'm a pro at shoveling snow.

 
At 2/12/2006 7:02 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Woody,
As I mentioned to Beak, I'm grateful for the warm winter here. I don't have to pay the bucks for heating oil. And that means fewer dollars to the Saudis!

BTW, glad to see you keeping us updated on GM Roper. Hard times for him right now.

 
At 2/12/2006 8:17 PM, Blogger LASunsett said...

Well Woody, the hurricane machine is in for annual service, the earthquake machine needs a tune up, and the tornado machine is just about ready to come out of the shop. The only thing that Karl Rove had that could pass motor pool inspection was the blizzard machine.

 
At 2/12/2006 9:34 PM, Blogger Bassizzzt said...

Well, here in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia, we sneaked by with a mere 6 inches of the white stuff - and the roads are totally clear, thanks to the sunshine that came in this afternoon and it melted the snow from all asphalt surfaces.

School is delayed one hour tomorrow because of the mountain roads that the buses have to be on to pick up the kids.

 
At 2/12/2006 9:54 PM, Blogger Mike's America said...

I really enjoyed that '96 blizzard. I remember walking down the middle of East Capitol Street the next day and it was magic. No cars anywhere. People were sledding down Capitol Hill on the House side where it is steeper and no trees.

I did get bored of being without the car after a few days so dug out the alley that led from my garage to Independence Avenue. I should have charged each of my neighbors $20 to use the alley.

Of course I never ran out of toilet paper... so things were not so bad.

 
At 2/12/2006 11:22 PM, Blogger WomanHonorThyself said...

Awwwwww we got over 2 feet here onna east coast n I'm gettin ready for skiing later this week...wwwhhhooosh!!

 
At 2/13/2006 1:45 AM, Blogger maccusgermanis said...

You think DC drivers are bad in the snow. You should see the game of pinball played in Bham as people lose traction on rumour of ice.

 
At 2/13/2006 9:42 AM, Blogger Mussolini said...

It's global warming. I blame Bush.

 
At 2/13/2006 10:20 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Most school systems in the D.C. suburbs are off today. I don't see the need for the cancellation. But there you have it!

 
At 2/13/2006 10:26 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Mike,
The Blizzard of '96 was an unusual event.

People were sledding down Capitol Hill on the House side where it is steeper and no trees. I remember that!

But I also recall a time in the 60's when we were paralyzed for two weeks. Homework assignments for all schools, public and private, were given out over WFAX Radio on Fairfax City. The weather that winter was so bad that the state of VA suspended the required 180 days of instruction; otherwise, the kids would've gone to school until the Fourth of July!

My mother had a heart attack at home that year. The family doc came in on our tractor equipped with a snow thrower (We had a quarter-mile-long driveway), and Mom was taken to the hospital on a fire truck.

I never again saw a blizzard like that one which almost cost my mother her life. The snow drifted and piled up in some spots--almost to five feet. Our Dachshund was dismayed!

 
At 2/13/2006 10:28 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Maccus Germanis,
You should see the game of pinball played in Bham as people lose traction on rumour of ice.

A great turn of phrase there, game of pinball. I've seen the same phemenon here. Amazing!

 
At 2/13/2006 10:29 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Bassizzzt,
Country mountain roads are treacherous. Schoolbus drivers have enough trouble with them even without a layer of ice.

 
At 2/13/2006 10:31 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Woman Honor Thyself,
A good snowfall is a boon for skiers. I've never even been on a pair of skis, but I hear that the sport is great fun, though hard on the knees.

PS: I finally added you to my blogroll. :)

 
At 2/13/2006 10:32 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Mussolini,
I haven't heard "Blame Bush for the blizzard"--YET. Al Gore has been busy shooting off his mouth in Saudi.

 
At 2/13/2006 11:49 AM, Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

WE got 2 inches a few days ago and it all melted away the next day. Then yesterday we got a light dusting and it melted away too. We don't need no damn snow.

 
At 2/13/2006 12:50 PM, Blogger Iran Watch said...

I'm very glad to hear that you had three cats when you were "borrowing cat food".
Here in New York we set an all-time record with nearly 2 ft. of snow falling throughout the region. I've always been amazed how well New York recovers from a major snowstorm. The roads are already cleared and schools in most places are open today.

 
At 2/13/2006 1:05 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

The roads are clear enough here for me to make my afternoon piano-teaching run. I don't understand why the schools here closed down as there was really no need or such a step.

I'm one of those cowards who just won't go out if the idiots are moving on icy roads. I can't afford damage to my old car as I carry liability-only coverage. Already I've been rear-ended by an underinsured cabbie--this event happened in the spring and on a perfectly clear day. The cabbie's insurance company totaled out my car, and because my husband is a mechanic and gets automotive parts at a huge discount, the money was enough to repair it, not including the body damage.

Even though the bright sun did most of the work, I still had to spend about a half hour shoveling out. Not bad at all.

 
At 2/13/2006 1:06 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Iran Watch,
I've never been so low on stores as to have to eat cat food. Yuck!

 
At 2/13/2006 1:08 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Beamish,
I don't mind the snow too much. But I'd much rather have it around Christmas. We get very few white Christmases here any more.

As you're from Alabama, I can understand why you hate the snow. But driving in that Alabama mud can be tricky too--or so I've heard.

Think one of my favorite films, My Cousin Vinny. LOL.

 
At 2/13/2006 1:59 PM, Blogger Bassizzzt said...

Good to hear it wasn't just my pug who was dismayed with the snow....he has a hard time going outside, HATES the cold weather. We just have to push him outside until he goes but this morning he did it in the kitchen after I left for work. It figures.

 
At 2/13/2006 5:33 PM, Blogger MissingLink said...

The last time I saw real snow it was 1992.
Sorry we do have snow in the Mountains but it is not the real winter weather as you guys get.

 
At 2/13/2006 6:03 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Bassizzzt,
Can't really blame the pug, though. I wouldn't relish a trip to the outhouse in this kind of weather.

 
At 2/13/2006 6:04 PM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Felis,
I can't imagine a winter without any snow, but we've had a few here. Very few!

 
At 2/13/2006 7:14 PM, Blogger WomanHonorThyself said...

yay!..I made it to the blogroll..hehe

 
At 2/14/2006 12:02 AM, Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Alabama mud is nothing. It's the hoop snakes that'll git ya.

One time I saw a hoop snake rolling at me. They put their tails in their mouths and roll down hills at you like a bicycle tire. Damnest thing you'd ever see. But if they get up on you they will bite you and you'll suffer a swelling you'll never forget. Anyway, this ol' hoop snake rolled up and jumped to strike me but I caught him in the fangs with an axe handle.

And what do you know? That axe handle swelled up until it was big enough to cut into lumber for a chicken coop.

It worked great until one hot summer day the hoop snake venom sweated out of the wood and the coop shrank down and killed all the chickens.

 
At 2/14/2006 6:04 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Beamish,
Hoop snake? As in snipe hunt?

 
At 2/14/2006 6:14 PM, Blogger Mr. Beamish the Instablepundit said...

Yup yup!

 

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