Earthquake, derecho, hurricane - fine! Snow, not so much ...

Wednesday - 1/30/2013, 2:00am EST

A couple of years ago, we in the D.C. area had an earthquake followed by a hurricane that weekend. No sweat. Bring it on.

Superstorm Sandy missed us by a matter of a few miles, trashing New Jersey and Manhattan instead. Lots of groups from the D.C. area sent money or volunteered to do cleanup to help our neighbors to the north.

Last June, the D.C. metro area was slammed by a suprise, violent storm that brought powerful horizontal winds and rain. It was the first time most of us had ever heard of a derecho. It started in the Midwest, lasted about 12 to 18 hours, and covered 700 to 800 miles by the time it hit the Mid-Atlantic. There were 91 mph winds in Fort Wayne, Ind., 2.7 inch hail stones in Illinois and a tornado in Ohio. Most of us picked up the pieces and moved on.

But since D.C. was made the capital, the area has faced a losing war with winter. Snow and ice to be specific. Part of it is geographic. We are a huge land area between mountains and the nation's largest bay. The Atlantic is just on the other side. We straddle north and south. Some suburban Maryland counties have Canadian style weather and flora and fauna. Being a river town you are always going either up hill or down hill. The founding fathers put traffic circles everywhere, somehow anticipating the invention of the automobile, millions of tourists and an influx of government workers.

The D.C. area probably has more lawyers (and shrinks) than any other major metro area. Your chances of getting sued here, for just about anything, are high. So we tend to err on the side of caution. Especially when it snows. Especially in the government (our largest employer and source of traffic) and with school systems (and buses) in the suburbs.

Bottom line, everybody has got a tough weather story, even on days like Monday when it was more frozen rain than snow. Example:

  • 'I moved to the D.C. metro area several years ago from Hill AFB just outside of Salt Lake City. During the winter in that area, we did not measure snow in inches, but rather in feet. The weather rarely (if ever) closed anything. However, I was glad that the government closed or delayed opening when it did. It was not that I had problems driving in the snow (I had lived in it for several years in several places), but the locals seemed to have a problem with the idea of "slow down for bad weather". The local attitude seemed to be that if you had four-wheel drive or front-wheel drive you could still go as fast as you want. Of course these things did not help you to stop on ice or snow The general problem was that the locals did not get snow often enough to learn how to drive in bad weather. So, in order to survive in this area I would stay home Oh, by the way I retired and moved away from the D.C. area and we get a lot less snow here and I don't have to worry about closings anymore! Happy to be out of the mess." — Rick T.

  • D.C. got off till noon. Baltimore got nothing!" — Dave A.

  • "About D.C. being a weather wimp city, I can see it both ways now. I started as a fed in my hometown of Chicago in 1999 and for the seven years I was there, the Federal Executive Board never closed for snow or cold. Never. On occasion, I walked six blocks from the station to the Kluczynski Building in -10 degree weather and that was without a windchill. Then I got ambitious and came to D.C. (And in the process learned that, "The journey of a thousand miles sometimes ends very, very badly" but thats another story.) What I noticed when I got here is that the weather is more like downstate Illinois. There, and here, storms start off as rain that then freezes. In Chicago, there rarely were ice storms as it was always cold enough to start as snow. Living in Arlington, I would wake up expecting to find a pile of cars that slid down one hill and couldn't get back up the other side. So the ice is one thing that makes D.C. less of a "weather wimp." The second thing is snow removal. I don't think it is the priority in the D.C. area that it is in Chicago. Snow removal cost Michael Bilandic his job as the mayor of Chicago in 1979 and believe you me, Chicago politicians NEVER forget that. So less snow removal equipment is another reason D.C. is less than a weather wimp.