Warming trends amid a hope for snow

Petula Dvorak
Columnist January 30, 2012

The skis are leaning against the wall, forlorn, cornered by the bikes.

The tulip bulbs are popping up in January, the Occupiers stayed outside way longer than anyone thought they could.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

And the only thing sliding on Capitol Hill is America’s faith in Congress, not sleds.

This Warmageddon is getting old.

I know some of y’all like this. The Bocce leagues and kickball teams are back outside. Cafes are using their outdoor tables.

It’s supposed to be in the mid-60s on Tuesday. But what about my cute suede boots?

You could be wearing shorts and then a puffer jacket in the same week. Don’t even talk to me about getting dressed every morning. No way to do it without checking in on the Capital Weather Gang — we’ve had more highs and lows than Newt Gingrich’s poll numbers.

My herb garden is in some weird sort of stasis, not dead, but not thriving. The cherry blossoms, thankfully, aren’t being fooled into an early bloom, National Park Service spokesman Bill Line assured me.

The sustained overnight lows (the reason you’ve got to keep the winter coats out) have kept our lovely cherry trees quiet, he explained. They’re smarter than the tulips, apparently.

At my younger son’s birthday party over the weekend, it was so warm, the kids spilled into our tiny back yard and sat in a row on the Snow Rocket sled, stuck on the bricks, going nowhere.

Is this a long autumn or an early spring?

I got spoiled the past two years, with all that snow.

We’ve had well-reported stories that explain the science of this, the jet stream, the zonal flow patterns. I think it’s all because I finally got some really cool ski goggles I’m dying to wear. And they just won’t work downtown, even with the suede boots.

But then again, I should remember the price tag that came with all that winter fun.

A federal government snow shutdown costs Americans about $71 million a day in lost productivity. That one snowstorm in February 2010, as cute as the snow pictures were, cost taxpayers well more than $300 million when federal offices closed for 4 1/2 days.

So in the past two winters of epic storms, federal government snow days cost us about the same as, what, the ads leading up to the Florida GOP primary?

Don’t forget the cost of keeping schools open for all those extra makeup days in June and the lost wages of parents who weren’t working because they had to stay home with those unschooled offspring.

Maryland, Virginia and the District asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for millions of dollars in aid after the disastrous snowfalls, explaining that their budgets collapsed under the weight the snow.

The region’s Snow Era cost us millions, possibly even a billion dollars. So if this crazy, warm weather keeps up, we should be awash in surplus cash, right? The silver lining to this milquetoast winter.

Not so fast, I was told.

In Maryland, this puny Winterlette has already cost the state $23.5 million of the $36 million budgeted for this winter. That’s right.

There have been a few borderline storms, icings and a few decent powderings in the western part of the state, said Valerie Burnette Edgar, Maryland State Highway Administration spokeswoman.

It’s not enough for a good day of skiing, alas. But each time there’s a call for ice, they have to mobilize the teams and salt. That costs a lot.

“The problem is, most of those have been on the weekend,” Edgar said, and that increases overtime costs quite a bit.

And in the District, the flaccid little flurries we’ve had have eaten up half our snow budget. The Department of Public Works told Mike DeBonis that $3.5 million of our $6.2 million budget is gone.

And in Northern Virginia?

The snow removal budget for Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax and part of Arlington counties is $55 million this winter, said Jennifer McCord, spokeswoman for the Northern Virginia District of the state’s Department of Transportation. They’ve burned through $19 million on storms that amount to a minor Slurpee spill.

If the warm trend holds up and the snow crews aren’t activated again, the leftover millions would go back into the department’s maintenance budget and the region can finally take a good whack at fixing damage from Tropical Storm Lee, doing some paving, bridgework and patching potholes, McCord said.

Don’t count those smooth roads yet, the transportation mavens warned. The worst of the snows usually come in February.

“I won’t breathe easy until the Ides of March,” Edgar said.

Sure, repaired roads would be nice. But me? I’m hoping for an end to Warmpocalypse.

Maybe if I lose my ski goggles, it will finally snow.

Petula Dvorak will respond at noon Tuesday to your comments about this column at washingtonpost.com/
dvorak. You can also go to that address for previous columns.

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