President John F. Kennedy once described Washington as a city of northern charm and southern efficiency. It must have been snowing when he said that.

Washington goes nuts when it appears the snow may fly.

People from God's Country (which is Minnesota, Massachusetts, Idaho or wherever those people come from) say that everybody in Washington goes crazy when it snows. True. But there is a reason for it. This is the seat of government.

The Executive Branch is here, not Minneapolis. The Judicial branch is here, not in Braintree. The Congress is here (except Fridays through Monday), not in Boise.

When it snows in those places life, more or less, goes on. But in Washington snow is a federal case. There are 342,000 folks here who toil for Uncle Sam, and most of them commute to work.

Metropolitan Washington went into its usual February panic yesterday as soon as the National Weather Service mentioned those fearful (except to school kids) words, "winter storm warning."

High-level officials sneaked out of conferences about SALT, CETA, MX, B1, MIRV and MAD to call home to McLean and Potomac to ask if it was snowing, or to ask colleagues if they thought it would snow. The telephone company weather line got very busy, as it does whenever somebody mentions snow.

If there is snow on the ground this morning, Uncle Sam has a plan.

Radio and TV stations will advise as to what state of alert the government has gone to, depending on the amount of snow and the state of the area's public transportation system.

Delayed Arrival/Liberal Annual Leave: If you hear those words, this is the official explanation:

" . . . This notice will be used when weather conditions make it desirable to reduce or delay the flow of morning traffic. Supervisors may grant a reasonable amount of excused absence to those who report to work late because of commuting delays.

"It is up to the individual supervisor to consider road, traffic and Metro system conditions affecting individual employes and to decide how much excused absence is reasonable.

"In addition, individual employes may choose to take annual leave or leave without pay without receiving advance approval from their supervisors . . . "

If there is no delayed arrival/liberal annual leave alert, it means you are expected to be at work on time.

Stay Home: The government rarely shuts down because of snow. But it did a few years back, when a 14-inch snowfall caught the city with its regulations down.

So-called essential employes must report for duty no matter what. Most people are not considered essential. You know who you are!