D.C. schools were the first system inside the Capital Beltway to shut down. Others soon followed.
“We made our decisions based on, unfortunately, faulty weather predictions,” said Pedro Ribeiro, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D). “You can’t really blame the government officials for using the data the scientists gave them.”
Ribiero said media forecasts “did tend to hype it up a little bit, but what we look at is the data. We have to take that as valid.”
Those forecasts were plain wrong. “This was the biggest bust in the history of the Capital Weather Gang,” said The Washington Post’s chief meteorologist, Jason Samenow. He said the major mistake was to accept computer models that said the amount of moisture in the storm would make up for the warmth of the air below.
Every forecaster in town overestimated the storm; at 3 a.m., the Weather Service still predicted eight to 10 inches of snow for the District.
In Prince William County, one of the first systems to close, transportation director Ed Bishop said his boss, Superintendent Steven Walts, hates to shut down based only on forecasts.
“I kid him and say, ‘If you can’t see it or step in it, you don’t want to mess with it,’ ” Bishop said. This time, Walts was able to say, “Look out the window; it’s snowing.”
Inside the Beltway, there was no such evidence. After another Council of Governments call at 3 a.m., the top brass of the Prince George’s County school system held a 3:45 a.m. call that ended with the decision to close. “We will always side on caution as opposed to whether it’s convenient,” said spokesman Briant Coleman.
Despite the schools’ decision, the county government remained open. Brad Seamon, chief administrative officer in Prince George’s, and County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) considered forecasts, traffic and the cost of shutting down — about $1.5 million, Seamon said — as well as the memory of having closed for Hurricane Sandy, which was mostly a fizzle in the county.
At 5 a.m., with a forecast of two to five inches that sounded manageable to Seamon, they decided to stay the course, especially because the federal government was closing, which would ease traffic.
That fact drove the opposite decision in Montgomery County. “When I woke up today and heard the federal government was closed, there was no way we could keep administrative offices open,” said Larry Bowers, chief operating officer of the county schools. “Try to explain to 4,000 employees why you’re opening up and the federal government is closed.”