"I think we've seen the last of the snow for a while," said Jerry LaRue, chief forecaster for the National Weather Service, who wore a summer-blue cotton short-sleeve shirt to work yesterday.
"But who knows?" he added, flipping a quarter as climate-controlled air hissed from a vent near his desk in the World Weather Building, in Camp Springs, Md. "Our best skills prove to be 60 percent accurate. With my quarter, I can do 50."
However he figured it out, he was right -- this time. No snow yesterday. Maybe none today. But who knows? It was not supposed to snow on Wednesday, either, but two inches fell on Washington anyway.
It was the earliest drop since 1892, and from that, LaRue, a 29-year veteran weather watcher was consoled.
"You can't predict freak events; only a fool would try" he said. "We have computers to solve some very complicated atmospheric equations but we still have misses and busts. Like Wednesday, we forecast rain -- and it snowed." He shrugged.
Meanwhile three Prince George's county public schools remained closed yesterday after a loss of power caused by the rain and snow. School officials said about 1,200 students who attent Oxon Hill Junior High and Indian Queen Elementary School in Oxon Hill stayed home because of power outages.
At Bladensburg Junior High 850 students were closed out because of a broken furnace.The three schools are expected to be open today.
Clean-up operations continuted yesterday around the Washington metropolitan area. Several stores reported a run on snow shovels and ice scrapers. Utility crews worked on downed power lines while city maintenance workers pruned damaged trees and removed those that had been toppled by the sudden storm.
The cool and wet weather -- with temperatures hovering around the low-50's -- is expected to continue in the Washington area for two weeks to two months, LaRue said yesterday. Whether the early snow signals a bitter winter can't be determined anymore precisely with a quarter than a computer he said.
About 42 persons watch the weather from LaRue's Washington office of the National Weather Service, which does forecasting for Delaware, Virginia and Washington. They make their forecasts available to the public by recorded telephone reports and radio.
On Tuesday, it was clear that Washington area temperatures were going to drop. Winds from Western Canada were heading this way. Rains from the south were already passing through. Then, "out of nowhere," as one forecaster put it, a "low pressure system" formed over North Carolina, sucking cold air from Canada faster than was predicted.
The cold air met with the rain and made snow.
"The first thing I thought was, 'What the hell is going on?' "recalled Chet Henricksen, another veteran forecaster. "Then you start wondering how long will it last and who is in the worse shape -- you know, who got hit the hardest."
Usually, when the weather service makes a mistake it is LaRue who gets hit hard. "The power company got all the blame this time," LaRue said. "That's good. The main problem was that leaves were still on the trees and the snow was heavy with water.Otherwise, there wouldn't have been a problem."
Settled back at his desk, he peered at gray skies and fingered his coin. "Now, you take an economist -- the profession as a whole: the only group that can't even predict 50 percent accurate. Now, I can do that with my coin."