On the ninth day of April, with the cherry blossoms half gone and with the magnolias, tulips and daffodils badly battered, along with the mood of the area's inhabitants, the weather in Washington turned even more dismal: It snowed.
Not enough to measure, just enough for another day of the sweaters and down coats that looked appealingly snug two months ago but that, with spring having officially arrived, now appear unseasonably cumbersome. The city seemed yesterday to have gone back in time, to winter. You could still see your breath. The runners who had embraced in shorts and T-shirts last week's warm weather were back inside their long underwear and Gore-Tex suits. In the morning on the Potomac, men who had so recently rowed barebacked donned sweatshirts again. On street corners, the flowers of spring were sold by vendors bundled in winter clothes.
Having fortified himself against the chill with cabbage soup at the Kramer Books & Afterwords Cafe on Connecticut Avenue (alas, the sidewalk tables that were filled last week with lunchtime diners were stacked against the wall once more), a 43-year-old mathematician named Eliot Feldman gave this report on the weather: "I live in Silver Spring. I watched the snow coming down about 7:30 this morning. I was surprised to see it. The flakes were big. I put on my Harris tweed jacket and my goose-down jacket from Hudson Bay Outfitters . . . . The weather doesn't depress me. It's a Friday. I've got the weekend ahead. My children are both away. After work I'll go to my martial arts class. Then I'll go home and shower, and my wife and I will go out to dinner."
It was raining at mid-afternoon, but Roy Watkins, a portly 50-year-old vendor who presided over red buckets of flowers from a plastic lawn chair on the sidewalk at 18th and N streets, smiled nonchalantly. "It's a job," he said. "As long as the wind doesn't blow my buckets over, I'm still in business." To look at Watkins, you might have thought Washington had expected a blizzard yesterday: He wore long underwear, one shirt, two woolen jackets, a raincoat and boots up to his knees.
At the National Visitor Center, an awesome responbility rested on the shoulders of Margaret Chandler, who handled the telephone calls of the worried would-be tourists who wanted to know the state of the cherry blossoms and whether they should come to Washington.
"They call from all over: Canada, Ohio, New York City, Boston," Chandler said. "Some of them call almost every day. I tell them the cherry blossoms are not as pretty as in years past, but that they're still pretty to see. I tell them it's their decision. They want to know what will happen if it rains or snows or if it gets cold. I tell them I'm not sure. One man called from Boston. He said he'd come anyway because he could visit his parents in Philadelphia first."
Yesterday morning's low temperature at National Airport was 34 degrees, six degrees higher than the record cold for the day set in 1972 and 56 degrees lower than the highest temperature ever recorded for the day, in 1959. National Weather Service forecaster Larry Wenzel blamed the cold on "low pressure areas out of the Gulf coastal states, sliding up the eastern seaboard." Wenzel predicted nicer weather for today, with sunshine and temperatures in the low to mid 50s. For Easter Sunday, however, the forecast is for cloudy skies, temperatures in the mid to upper 40s, and a chance of rain possibly mixed with snow.
At the National Park Service, spokeswoman Sandra Alley, who might be expected to be cheerful, had irrepressible high spirits, despite the weather. "We have hope ahead," she said. "The tulips will still bloom. And there's always next year."