Tuesday, February 9

Snowbound: Washington's Historic Winter Hurricanes of 2010

Saturday night, February 6

We got respect even from Albany, New York, which has to be one of the blizzard capitals of the USA; Greater Washington, DC's snow totals for this winter are running ahead of theirs. But it's not so much the totals -- as high as 40 inches recorded in Colesville, Maryland -- as the speed with which they accumulated during just this one snowstorm. Those 40 inches fell within a 30 hour period.

The storm that crept in on little cat feet on Friday morning roared like a lion across West Virginia, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Maryland with such ferocity that even its 'outer bands' dumped more than two feet of snow as far north as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

"This is a winter hurricane," announced Topper Shutt on Friday night -- Topper is chief meteorologist for CBS TV local affiliate WUSA-9 in Washington -- "And this is our storm, not New York's storm, nobody else's storm."

Actually I think the massive weather front that created the hurricane-like conditions blew in from Georgia or the Carolinas but yes, it was our very own blizzard.

And everybody here knows that some spoilsport camped out at Reagan National airport during the storm and kept blowing on the ruler so the final total for Washington, DC for the Friday-Saturday storm was only 17.8 inches Reagan National is in Alexandria, Virginia, for crying out loud.

Okay, Reagan is not much more than a stone's throw from the District but why can't we have our own official snow measuring ruler? Why why why do we have to depend on the one at National? Virtually all parts of the District got hit with about 24 inches during that 30-hour period.

Tuesday February 9, 9:30 AM Eastern Time

All fine here; thanks to readers who've inquired. We have enough groceries to last a month and if we stretch it maybe until Spring lol. So there's nothing to do now but hunker down and wait for today's storm to arrive.

Washington's quartet of winter snowstorms, and the suspension of much ordinary activity here because of them, has put me in a contemplative mood. Of course the trials and triumphs of Washingtonians due to this winter's snow emergencies in no way equal those of the Haitians dealing with the January earthquake. And yet the snowstorms reveal as much about the fragility of even the most advanced, wealthy urban societies as the earthquake did about poor and underdeveloped ones.

Haiti's earthquake took 16 seconds to strike. The snows in Washington -- and here I mean the Greater Washington, DC area, which includes parts of Virginia and Maryland -happened over a period of weeks; the potential for disaster unfolded slowly, in cumulative fashion.

The first big snowstorm -- among the top ten snows for Washington, at more 10 inches, on December 19 -- caused a great deal of inconvenience but things were quickly put to rights as city, county, and state-federal governments efficiently chewed through the storm's aftermath. The second storm, which dumped no more than a couple inches on the District, was in the nuisance category.

The next storm, the one that struck on Friday February 5 and went through Saturday afternoon -- everyone had plenty of advance warning it would be The Big One and that they should prepare to be snowbound for at least a couple days.

So while there wasn't exactly a festival atmosphere ahead if the snow's arrival, which converged with preparations for Super Bowl parties, there was sort of a Swiss Family Robinson adventure about it. Everyone knew the drill -- stand in line at the stories, stock up on enough groceries for three or four days, get batteries and candles, ice melt, and so on.

Grocery chains in the region had gone to DEFCON1 at the first mention of the storm -- double and quadruple ordering, so that the stores wouldn't be picked clean in the first hours hordes of customers descended to stock up.

All city, state, and federal agencies in any way involved in snowstorm management across Virginia, Maryland, and the District had also geared up for war. The local utilities put out calls to utility companies in other states, as they do ahead of summer hurricanes, to send as many workers as they could spare to help restore downed power lines even before the storm ended.

Washingtonians, tired of being laughed at for years in Buffalo and Albany and other regions in the USA where two feet of snow was nothing, were determined that the Big One wouldn't cripple the city so badly it would take weeks to recover.

There was more than city pride at stake: federal and state snow budgets had been pretty much decimated by the first major snowstorm this year. And while many in the region's workforce were employed by federal and city governments and agencies or big corporations that paid employees for snow days, the recession had been hard on hourly workers and those employed in small businesses that couldn't afford to pay for snow days. Washington's working stiffs had to get back to work as quickly as possible, even if Congress used the excuse of the storm to play hooky.

On Friday afternoon, the 5th, as The Big One closed in, the local meteorologists mentioned another snow a few days out, "but it'll be just a few flakes, at most a couple inches -- a nuisance snowfall."

On Sunday afternoon, when the full scope of The Big One's crippling aftermath was evident, the meteorologists were grim-faced. The "nuisance" storm on the horizon was growing, and possibly threatening to be another Big One when it arrived sometime on the 9th.

At that point Washington wasn't in the bull's eye of the storm's path, they said; the worst of the storm would be farther north and dump probably no more than 10 inches on Washington.


Now the meteorologists are reporting that the bull's eye will be north and east of Washington; the big east coast cities -- Philadelphia, New York, and Boston -- "could get clobbered" with two feet or more of snow.

The worst part of the storm will hit Washington tomorrow morning and afternoon, with high winds -- 20 to 40 mph. Snowfall for Washington is now expected to be between 8-16 inches, with blizzard conditions tomorrow afternoon.


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