Washington’s first significant snowfall in three years inspires delight, disdain, disgust

You can’t forget how to shovel snow, but you can forget where you put the snow shovel. On Friday, many Washingtonians had to dig out long-unused winter gear before facing their first significant winter storm in three years, a frigid, snowy blast that snarled evening and morning rush hours, led to cancellations and power outages and dropped two to five inches of snow across the region.

Temperatures plunged to their lowest levels of the season, adding a bracing exclamation point to what had been a mild holiday break just as many residents were heading back to school and work. At 10:30 a.m. Friday, the temperature at Reagan National Airport was 19 degrees, and it felt like 4 degrees with the chilly wind. At Dulles International Airport, the temperature was 16 degrees with a wind chill of 1 degree below zero.

For some, the arctic shift brought a chance to wallow in winter’s best, with monuments, trees and row houses glistening in white and liberal leave policies offering a chance to spend the day in slippers.

“Working from home on this snowy day, got the fire going, chick noodle soup in the crock pot and my pup snuggled next to me,” tweeted Alyssa Amand, 24, a marketing designer in Northwest Washington.

The Massachusetts native, who moved to the District in April, went out long enough to experience a snowy capital for the first time.

People share their photos and videos of the Washington, D.C. area on Instagram of the on the January 3, 2014 snowday. (Sandi Moynihan & Natalie Jennings/The Washington Post)

“It’s just so pretty around the [Washington National] Cathedral,” she said. “It looks like Hogwarts in winter.”

For others, the snow reminded them of just what they haven’t been missing in recent winters. The federal government remained open, and the morning commute was a mess for many. Riders faced restricted schedules on Amtrak and MARC lines and Metrorail reported at least seven incidents of disabled or malfunctioning trains, which may have been weather-related, the agency said. Several Metrobus lines experienced delays of up to 40 minutes because of unplowed streets, minor accidents and downed power lines.

Maryland officials kept some lighter tractor-trailers from crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Friday as sustained wind gusts topped 50 mph.

Holiday travelers heading through National, Dulles and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport faced more than 2,700 flights canceled and an additional 5,600 delayed as of 5:30 p.m. Friday, according to FlightAware.com.

The most serious weather was farther north, though, with nine inches of snow reported in Philadelphia and nearly 14 inches in Boston.

Whether you see snow as a winter wonder or mushy mess, Washington haven’t seen much of it at all recently. This storm, which left accumulations of just under two inches in the District and five inches farther north and west, is the biggest hit since a five-inch dump in January 2011.

Whatever the totals, Washington was back to its familiar white-stuff ways, from hair-trigger school closings to the eye-rolling disdain expressed by transplants from Syracuse or Ohio or other places with “real snow.”

“Note to DC folks: A half inch of snow is not a disaster,” sniffed one commenter on a column about Washington’s weather culture. Grocery stores were crowded with milk-and-toilet paper buyers Thursday, and hardware store shoppers stocked up on foul-weather supplies they haven’t needed lately.

Rick McKinless’s cart at a Falls Church Home Depot on Friday was loaded with five bags of Blizzard Wizard ice melt, along with rock salt and bird seed (to tide the critters over until the ice melts). Also: two fuzzy-lined mittens with built-in ice scrapers.

“I admit this was an impulse buy,” said McKinless, 56.

Parents in many school districts, including Montgomery, Prince George’s, Arlington, Alexandria, Loudoun and Prince William, scrambled to find coverage for kids who had been back in class for only a day. Students in the District and Fairfax, meanwhile, faced the heartbreak of losing a snow day.

The long stretch without a big snow meant Friday was a strange — and some cases unnerving — morning for those who only arrived recently from warmer climes.

Jess Obi, a 17-year-old native of Nigeria, said she thought the first drifting flakes she saw Thursday evening looked like ashes. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, is there a fire,’ ” she said with a laugh as she walked, carefully, toward the Black Lion African grocery in Takoma Park.

Benay Tedla, standing before a rack of international phone cards in the shop, said several of his customers have come in marveling at the cloak of white draping every treetop and rooftop.

“They ask, ‘How long will it last? How long does it take to
melt?’ ” said Tedla, 25. One of his friends spent almost an hour clearing his car Friday morning for his commute to Virginia. But after a test drive in the parking lot, he decided to take Metro.

“He said, ‘No way,’ ” according to Tedla, who arrived from Ethiopia in 2009, just in time for Washington’s record-breaking winter of “Snowmageddon.” He remembers plunging into his first snow and “playing like a child.”

“People from Africa, we’ve only seen snow in movies,” Tedla said.

Not so Alemayehu Tesfaye, an Ethiopian who came into the shop for milk. After spending several winters at a university in Ukraine, he was unimpressed with his first American snowstorm.

“This is very light,” said Tesfaye, casting appraising eyes on the whitescape outside. “It will be gone soon.”

Mark Berman, Dana Hedgpeth, Jason Samenow and Theresa Vargas contributed to this report.

Steve Hendrix came to The Post more than ten years ago from the world of magazine freelancing and has written for just about every page of the paper: Travel, Style, the Magazine, Book World, Foreign, National and, most recently, the Metro section’s Enterprise Team.
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