Let Me Tell You About Snow

Given the snowstorm bearing down on us (see last post), I’m doing my bit as an Obnoxious Area Native to tell all the transient people around here what the Washington DC area knows from snow.

This page has a rundown of the area’s snow history. Scroll down to the second half of the “20th Century Winters” category; except for the storm recorded in 1953, a smidge over a year before I was born, I saw all of them.

Nothing beat the Blizzard of 1966.

January 30-31, 1966: The “Blizzard of 1966” struck Washington and the Northeast U.S. One to two feet of snow covered a large part of Virginia and Maryland: Fredericksburg – 15.5 inches; Manassas – 13 inches; Washington – 14 inches (added to a previous snow, the depth on the ground came to 20 inches); and Baltimore – 12 inches. Intense blowing and drifting snow continued and kept roads closed for several more days crippling transportation lines and causing a food shortage and rationing.

I admit I didn’t take it in and can’t tell you what was rationed and how. “Snow up to your crotch” made a far more vivid impression.

My cat at the time didn’t like it much either.

Those are our porch railings, three steps above ground level, after the snow had had a couple of days to drift and settle and we felt like it was all right to let her understand why she hadn’t been allowed out through all that time. She shook her paws for half an hour after coming in from a few minutes’ exploration.

What the “Great Furlough Storm of 1996” entry doesn’t mention is that after three days under three feet of snow and packed ice, thawing and refreezing every night, the morning temperature on the Friday of the first week soared to 65 degrees. I was running down the bike path in my jog bra with my jacket and jersey tied around my waist, uttering sharp whoops at the delirium of it. Just as I was about to commence my day’s work an hour later, I looked down the cellar stairs and discovered that the foundation drains, clear and operating, were pouring thaw into an outside-stairwell main drain that had been blocked by something during all that thawing and refreezing. The water was accumulating in the stairwell at the rate of about a gallon a minute and had already risen half way across the gently banked cellar floor.

I stood in that motherf*&%ing stairwell for four hours ankle deep in thaw, with a bucket, scooping and heaving the relentless water over my head onto the packed dirt under the porch. It took about a cubic yard of dirt to eventually fill in the gully I created. The county arrived with a compressor around three in the afternoon, pumped everything clear and fished out the block created by the terra-cotta drainpipe swallowing a piece of itself and then silting up.

There’s a reason I lift heavy things every day.

Later that evening the saturated ground poured water over Canal Road between Key Bridge and Chain Bridge, stranding about one Mercedes-driving Yuppie per quarter-mile along its nonexistent shoulder as the temperature plunged like a paralyzed falcon and created an obstacle-course of ice slicks. I saw them, standing in their Burberries beside their spun-out cars, glumly cell-phoning home to say they’d be late for dinner. I had just dropped off my then husband at a production of The Pirates of Penzance, in his pirate suit, and my little Civic dodged between the rinks somehow, getting me home to a large cup of brandied java about the time the curtain was due to go up. History does not record how many attended the performance.


6 thoughts on “Let Me Tell You About Snow

  1. I remember a snowfall of yours, either the very end of Jan. or the very beginning Feb. 1987. I was travelling via Amtrak with a friend (we both had never done train travel before and decided to try it out – only once!) back from New England going south to Atlanta. We had to switch trains in DC. We were delayed a couple of hours because snow was coming down heavily and was causing havoc. Anyhoo, when we pulled out of the station it was dark. The city was magnificent and so still. No cars on the roads, the streets were already covered in white and the snow was thick as it was falling from the sky. The street lights in the distance were blurred reds and greens and the buildings were barely visible. It was a scene that will be forever ingrained in my memory. It was as though I was dreaming.

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