Snowflakes swirled around her and wind whipped at her feet, but Serena Herr of Burlington, Wis., dressed in a white cotton pantsuit and wearing dark sunglasses, stood defiantly with hundreds of other tourists at the Washington Monument yesterday.
"I paid $416 for this trip," said the 13-year-old who is visiting here with a school group. "I bought this outfit especially for the trip. I was going to wear it."
Like Herr, many tourists are descending on the nation's capital this week, which is the spring break at most schools. But yesterday's April snow flurries, gusty winds and a high temperature of only 44 degrees caught them by surprise.
Snow in April is not uncommon. According to the National Weather Service, there has been some light snow every April since 1982. The last time there was any measurable snow in April was in 1972, when it snowed a bit more than a half-inch, said Walter Green, a National Weather Service forecaster.
But yesterday was by no means the norm for April. The normal high for April 9 is 65 and the low is 44 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Yesterday's low was 36 degrees and a freeze warning was issued for last night. The cold spell is expected to end with temperatures warming today to the 50s and reaching the 60s by Friday.
But yesterday, though, hundreds of hatless tourists walked from sight to sight, clad in thin windbreakers, light sweaters and sandals.
"Why they come, I don't know," said park technician Joseph Westermeyer, who kept count and said that the usual number -- about 1,000 people -- had entered the Washington Monument elevator by 11:30 a.m. for the trip to the top and the panoramic view.
"A psychologist could have a ball up here. It's a phenomenon to me," said Westermeyer. "They come in rain, snow or sleet. People come here when it's pouring down raining and you can't see two feet in front of you."
Visibility wasn't great yesterday, either. During the snow squalls, one could see about a mile and when the quick dusting of snow had stopped, one could see 15 miles.
Tourists who lined up outside the monument and the White House had to contend with winds that gusted up to 25 mph, according to a weather service spokesman.
The Brocks of Harlan, Ky., seemed unperturbed by the cold weather. On their way to the monument, caught in the midst of snow flurries, the family of four sat on a park bench eating hot dogs and pizza and sipping hot chocolate through straws.
"We brought clothes for each season," said the mother, Carolyn Brock, holding a hot dog in her reddened, gloveless hands.
"My daughter Amy suggested we stroll to the monument from the White House," Mike Brock said. "We won't let her suggest anything else."
Troop leader Rosalee Jewell of Virginia Beach, Va., standing in the long line at the monument, said she had warned her Girl Scouts to bundle up in warm clothes.
"The ones shivering are the ones who didn't read my instructions," she said, nodding at five Scouts huddling nearby.
"She's the only one that's not cold," 11-year-old Tara Boyce said of her troop leader.
Scout Lisa Wooten, 9, was warm in two coats and a neon orange rain cape and looked cool in her super-dark shades. "I read my directions," she said.
"She's got those shades to keep the snow out of her eyes," said 10-year-old Lynn Ronan, laughing.
In front of the scouts, some of the students from Burlington Junior High School in Burlington, Wis., danced in place to keep warm.
"Nice of the Washington Chamber of Commerce to make us feel so at home, with the snow, wind and all," noted Mel Dey, the group's chaperone. The group, staying at the Twin Bridges Marriott, left the monument with visions of pulling their swimsuits out of suitcases for a dip in the hotel's outdoor pool.
"They heard it was 82 degrees here last week," said Dey.