The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

On Saturday, we climbed above freezing, but only for a few hours

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In Washington, our true weather notoriety involves the swelter of our summers, but we can come up with a few frigid winter days as well. On Saturday morning, for example, the mercury sank to 16 degrees.

That was 14 degrees below average, and to be mildly grandiloquent about it, the coldest we have witnessed in the capital this decade.

Not since Jan. 31, 2019, has the mercury in Washington plunged lower than the 16 degrees recorded at 7:44 a.m. Saturday.

But as so often holds true another way exists of telling Saturday’s story.

For example, on Saturday, as we marched another day further from the winter solstice and closer to spring, our temperature refused to be confined to the nether regions of the thermometer.

Starting from the almost-historic low of 16, we began to show our thermal chops. Up through the teens we climbed, on through the 20s we rose, finally entering the more familiar meteorological realms above the freezing point.

Warmth can mean something different to each of us. But National Weather Service data for our Saturday lends support to this statement: There is a special warmth that comes from being above freezing, and for a few hours Saturday afternoon, for the first time since late Thursday, we felt it.

Our sojourn above the freezing point occurred amid visible signs that the Potomac River was responding to the thermometer by preparing to enter a new state.

Not the states of Virginia or Maryland, but the solid state — the state of ice — in which individual water molecules react to the cold by giving up the unruliness of liquidity. As if receiving a special signal from nature, they instead take up fixed places in a crystalline latticework of ice.

In fact, thin icy patches, described as rafts of incipient ice, seemed to coat the surface of the river Saturday afternoon.

The day’s brief spell of freedom from the grim rule of ice did not take us far or last long. Washington’s high temperature, after all, reached no higher than 34 degrees. And the excursion lasted no more than four hours.

On Saturday, we rose above freezing sometime between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. The day was recaptured by cold between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Yet Saturday reminded us of the chill delights which even a late January day in Washington may deliver.

With few clouds blotting our blue skies through much of the day, the sun shone brightly. Even as it maintained its low winter altitude and clung relatively close to the horizon, it gave forth an unmistakable brilliance. For those adequately attired, Saturday and its sunshine created a pleasant sense of winter tolerability and even well-being when we turned toward it. .

As the clock wound down Saturday afternoon on our allotment of winter-shortened daylight, and as the sun sank toward the dark horizon in the west, it appeared to lose little of its robust assertiveness.

And even in a city where many have mastered the art of keeping close-mouthed, the sudden beauties of the resulting sunset seemed almost enough to excuse anyone’s open-mouthed awe.

What appeared to be a rugged continent of cloud, floating in the western sky, offered an amplified and embellished display of the final rays of the setting sun.

At moments, it seemed that the clouds resembled a dazzling coral reef, set not in the sea but in the limpid blue of the sky. Richly textured, the clouds blazed with color.

Occupying a substantial swath of territory above the horizon, the clouds seemed composed of an aggregated infinity of individual and intermingled facets. They appeared to be painted in gray and purple where they were shielded from the sunlight and in brilliant orange and red where they caught and exhibited the day’s last rays.

It seemed an atmsopheric spectacle that fell not far from perfection, and it provided a fitting close to a January day that demonstrated the compatibility and potential for coexistence between winter’s inevitable cold and the sun’s irrepresssible brightness.