". . . And so for tonight look for up to 1 inch of snow ending sometime during the morning rush hour. I'll be here at 7 tomorrow morning to fill you in on all the late openings, delays and school closings."
To a midwesterner never having experienced a Washington rush hour with snow on the streets, it sounds sort of silly. You know, closing schools for an inch of snow, giving liberal leave to employees and some businesses not opening for two hours past their normal time. That's what I thought two years ago when I first came to Washington and Jan, my assignment editor, said in a panicked sort of way, eyes bulging, veins popping, face flushed: "An inch of snow! You'd better be here at 6 in the morning."
"But, Jan, you're from Detroit; you can't think an inch of snow is that critical."
"Oh, but, Dennis, you don't know!"
She was exactly right. I didn't know. The next morning, to my amazement, there were school closings and late arrivals.
I couldn't believe that such a small amount of snow should cause so many Washingtonians to tremble. I had no idea that the Beltway would resemble the bumper-car ride at King's Dominion. How could I know that it's easier to balance the federal budget than to get around in D.C. with an inch of snow on the ground?
In all my life I had never seen anyone abandon his car over half an inch of snow, not even in Tucson. But then one late afternoon while returning from an assignment in the District, I had the vision of torment that a snowfall in Washington is. For 45 minutes I sat in traffic in front of the British Embassy. On the Concord SST, I could have been a third of the way to London. But that was just the time in front of the British Embassy. In the time it took to get from downtown to Channel 5 in Northwest, I could have landed in London, been transported to my hotel and set my watch to Big Ben.
So now when I talk about snow, I do so with some respect. After all, what responsible weatherman would want to panic a million people over a simple little thing such as an inch of snow without showing some respect?
I guess I should have known it would be like that here. I mean, even in perfect weather the rush hours in D.C. aren't what you'd call a breeze. My friend Bruce Allen loves his radio traffic reporter job because he gets you around in the rush while he sits in his comfortable studio, knowing that there won't be any tie-ups or overturned tractor trailers near the Mormon Temple on his way home.
At least the snow in Washington and the general rush-hour traffic answered one burning question I'd had ever since I moved here from Illinois. Those of you who moved here from out of state may know what I'm talking about -- that driver's test you had to take certifying that you are among the world's worst drivers. I passed with flying colors. Perhaps that's why I feel so at home here in Washington. I mean, I fit in when I'm out there in traffic.