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.