A weather tale of two cities

A “friend” (who I suspects wants my job, or least would like to get me fired) has suggested for years that I write an expose of bureaucratic Washington in winter. He thinks it is a disgrace that federal offices here are sometimes closed or open late or shut down early because of weather conditions. Usually snow or ice storms, but sometimes for hurricanes too.

He hails from a city where men are men, women are women and everybody is tough. Where people laugh at ice storms and schools never close because of inclement weather. Many of the harshest critics of Washington’s ice and snow jitters hail from places like Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and Denver. Sometimes they are right, sometimes not.

A couple of years ago, President Barack Obama made fun of D.C., for shutting down schools after a mild snowstorm. That, he said, would never happen in Chicago. His criticism was correct, up to a point! The school his children attend did indeed shut down, as did many other area private schools. But the city’s public schools, in fact, remained open. Still our “Wimp City” image was again reaffirmed. Whatever…

There is no doubt that we do things differently in our mid-Atlantic, tri-state area which is chock full of people from other places. Last week, for example, my friend said that public school officials in St. Paul, one of the twin cities, debated how cold it would have to get before schools were closed. They finally decided, he says, that at 5 degrees below, the diesel fuel (or whatever they use in city school buses) starts to get lumpy. So maybe that should be the benchmark.


If it ever got 5 below here, everything and everybody would get lumpy. No doubt friendly foreign nations (if there are any left) would fly in food and supplies.

Starting late Sunday night and continuing through Monday morning, most of the very large metro Washington area — from the West Virginia mountains to the sea-level Chesapeake Bay — was hit with rain that quickly became ice. Spinning out on the roads was the order of the day. The government put out word that people were to be careful, could come in later than usual and that government buildings would be open in most cases around noon to the public. It also said people could take unscheduled annual leave or telework from home.

Area schools in D.C., Maryland and Virginia either had a two-hour delayed arrival or were closed altogether.

Since federal workers make up such a large portion of our commuter traffic, and because of the stop-and-go nature of school buses, having them off the road is a blessing for us nonfeds. I made it to work about 10 minutes early, thanks to the reduced traffic. That said…

My friend has, for years, been pushing a revised emergency weather scenario for the Washington area. He says it would speed up the a.m/p.m. commute, lessen public hostility toward federal government workers and make civil servants more appreciative of their jobs. His plan:

When the weather is bad, or if there is an emergency (or inauguration or other event or holiday) make federal employees come to work and tell private-sector workers to take the day off. With pay. This would take even more people off the roads and make more people (nonfeds) happy for a change.

Meantime, D.C. has its own weather critics. Some are native-born, others are transplants. Like this one:

“Mike, Hope you get to stay home as well. Thursday and Friday unscheduled telecommute — don’t even open until 12: 00 today. I take two hours of vacation and score a five-day weekend. Too bad I have to take the kids to school since they only got a two-hour delay.” — I’m just a grateful Lazy Fed

(I swear I did not make that up. I wouldn’t dare!)


Compiled by Jack Moore

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