Tuesday, January 27, 2009

When It Snows In Washington

Back in February 2006, I posted a version of the following essay at my first web site. As the snow is falling right now in the greater Washington, D.C., area in our first snowfall this winter, I have resurrected portions of that post. Readers from other areas may find my observations particularly amusing:

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.” Indeed, 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.

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


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posted by Always On Watch @ 1/27/2009 09:22:00 AM