Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Worst Day to Be in D.C.: Snowverreacting Inside the Beltway

 Left: Michigan. Schools probably opened. Right: Alexandria, VA. Schools & the federal government closed.

After being born and raised in Michigan, moving to the D.C. area over a decade ago was not too much of a culture shock. The biggest adjustment to me, besides the cost of living, was the area's overreaction to rain or snow.

It is a little unnerving that the capital of the most powerful nation in the world panics whenever bad weather passes through. When it rains, it is not unusual to see cars camped out under freeway overpasses waiting for the rain to stop...and I'm not even talking monsoon rain, just your average rainstorm. I happily drive on, knowing that my car is getting a much-needed wash.

When snow is FORECASTED, the town pretty much shuts down, even if the forecast only projects 1 to 2 inches. People rush to the supermarkets, fearful that they might be without milk or produce for weeks, and the federal and local governments and schools announce closings the night before...just in case it snows.

I could understand this reaction if our nation's capital were located somewhere it rarely snows, like Florida, but it does snow here...EVERY YEAR. At some point the nation's capital needs to toughen up. We have plows and salt trucks for the major roads, and they successfully clear all but blizzard conditions from the roads. At some point, this region needs to figure out what kind of snowfall requires closures, and the citizens of this metropolitan region need to learn how to drive in bad weather (including rain).

January 20 through 23 of this year was the perfect example of the ridiculousness of this area's snow panic.

10:30 p.m. on Monday, January 20: A friend posts on Facebook that his school district is closing on Tuesday because of anticipated snow. I laugh, but then think of how overcautious my school system is. I check the Alexandria schools website and see the following message:

"Due to the expected snow storm, all schools and offices will be closed on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014."

EXPECTED snow storm? I visit the major online weather sites and see that a "snow storm" means only 3 to 6 inches of snow over the period of 12 to 14 hours. Not only that, but the snow is not even supposed to start until 8 or 9 in the morning, in other words, after the kids would be safely in their classrooms.

5:45 a.m. Tuesday: Not a flake has fallen. My wife informs me that the federal government has shut down too. We go back to sleep. Russia must be laughing at us.

8:00 a.m.: the backyard gnomes

8:00 a.m.: Again, no snow. The streets are clear, and the sidewalks are not icy. A morning commute would have been as ordinary as any weekday, but we must keep the kids home today because it probably will snow. I look at my backyard garden gnomes and fear for their safety, but should I be brave enough to venture outside? After all, an avalanche of snowflakes could bury me before I escape the confines of my backyard.

10:00 a.m. The snow has started to lightly fall upon the ground. The local kids could have been in school for two hours. The only danger to the children would have been the possibility of one of them tripping while excitedly running to his classroom window to look outside at the snow.

12:00 p.m. The snow has lightly covered the ground. The sidewalks and roads are absolutely clear.

1:10 p.m. I look out the window and see the horror of the first accumulation of snow on the road. Five hours of education discarded for this:

The terror of living in Metro D.C.

2:30 p.m. The snow is finally sticking to the road. Driving on this would require some smarter driving, but these roads are by no means dangerous.

The road outside my house at 2:30. Still very drivable.

The sidewalks are not icy. They are safe for anyone who can walk unassisted. I laugh at the fear that grips this region whenever snow is forecast, but then I realized that they will probably close school again tomorrow...

And they did. And then they opened two hours late on Thursday (despite the fact that it had not snowed since Tuesday and the roads and sidewalks were pretty clear). My daughter already had a half day scheduled on Thursday, so she got about an hour and a half of education that day.

The gnomes survived, in case you were wondering.

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