Uncle Sam's Morning After

Friday - 1/28/2011, 4:00am EST

Like survivors of the Titanic or some other great disaster, the people of Washington, our nation's capital, love stories of strife overcome. Especially of how brave individuals coped with the latest snowstorm. Provided, of course the tale-spinner is the hero of and triumphs over the blizzard.

All of which brings me to us. And eventually, of course, back to me, and how we are doing the morning after the first big snowstorm of the season. As you move up the I-95 corridor Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston it, the amount of snow and the stories, get even deeper.

First a topographic tip: The Washington area, if you've been here or lived here, is very, very hilly. And some of the adjoining counties have very, very rural spots. DC is a river town. As such, you are either going downhill (toward the Potomac and Anacostia rivers,) or uphill if going away from them. They don't call Capitol Hill, Capitol Hill for nothing.

DC's elevation ranges from one foot above sea level (at the Potomac) to 410 in the Tenleytown section, about a mile from where I work. From Tenleytown you can look "down" into Virginia and see the humongous Tyson's Corner complex.

By contrast Chicago, where they know how to handle the snow (just ask any resident,) ranges from 577 feet at the lake to 735 feet at the Hegewisch landfill. In snowy climes, flatter is better.

People in cars, busses and subways don't notice the hilly nature of the Washington area. Which is the way most people experience it most of the time. But if you walk, run or bike you get it. Hills and snow (especially ice) storms don't blend very well. Even the toughest driver from the midwest and New England can, and does, slip and slide. Many years ago a friend and gave a badly needed push to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). His car was stuck, right up to its Massachusetts plates, in a Georgetown snowbank. And as I learned years ago (with my late, beloved Jeep CJ-7,) 4-wheel drive is of little use on ice.

Anyhow, the snow started Wednesday (different times in different parts of our very large metro area) as rain, then big time wet snow. At the rate of 2 inches per hour in some places. The government wisely let non-emergency workers leave two hours early. But even so, many people called in to WTOP radio with tales of nightmarish commutes. One man said he was 11 hours getting from DC to his home in Frederick, Maryland (usually a one hour drive.)

Most of the staff of WFED hunkered down at a plush hotel near our station. I am sure they wined and dined at company expense using the excuse they needed to be close to the office when it was their time to go on the air, or handle the webpage. A few of us tougher types headed for home (if we had cable) and toughed it out the next morning.

In order to live the experience, I pretended to be a federal worker so that I could come in two hours later than my colleagues who weren't smart enough to latch on to our dubious but useful federal connection.

Coming in to work, I saw elderly woman (I know what you are thinking, but I am not a woman!!) on skis on the bike path next to MacArthur Blvd. At the traffic circle at the American University, students (or Homeland Security types nearby) had put up a giant (maybe 8 foot tall) snowperson. With a hat. I didn't actually do anything heroic or save any lives. But I was prepared to.

Lots of traffic lights were out in the a.m. commute. Nearly a million homes lost power, mostly because trees (we've got lots of big trees here) had fallen on the above-ground power lines. On Massachusetts Avenue (very, very hilly,,) I saw two cars that looked like hammered sardine cans. Very big trees had hit them.

Most of us made it unscathed.

One lesson a lot of us never seem to learn: If the weather is dangerous and you have the option to stay home, stay home, even if you have to use your own leave time.

Meantime, teleworking (assuming you have electricity) looks better all the time.

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com


Nearly Useless Factoid
by Suzanne Kubota