Blizzard Over; Shutdown to Last for Days

Not your average DC-area snowstorm.


We got about two feet of snow in my neck of the woods. The power, which goes out way too frequently, mercifully never flickered here.

While the depth of the snow doesn’t strike me as that much worse than some other storms we’ve had since I moved to the area 13 years ago, it’s clearly worse. Yesterday morning, it was already deep enough that the girls didn’t want to play in it for more than a few minutes. In addition to being significantly colder than typical of our snowstorms, they could barely walk in it and the snow was too soft to support their sleds. It snowed for another twelve hours after that.

More significantly, while the roads in our subdivision are typically plowed continually during storms, we haven’t seen one since Friday afternoon, a couple hours into this one. While people in the neighborhood typically get in their cars and go somewhere way before they should, no one has budged this time.

More broadly, authorities are warning it will be “days” before everyone can get out.

We’re in good shape here, well stocked with provisions and with a gas fireplace and grill in case power does go out. But I’m sure a lot of people aren’t as well supplied. Given the forecast, people stocked up for the storm. But most did so with the expectation that they’d be able to resupply this afternoon—Monday at the worst. That’s likely not happening.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rafer Janders says:

    Well, whatever happens, clearly the market will fix it.

  2. I suspect it will be days as well, especially in communities where the responsibility for road maintenance has been turned over to state and local authorities rather than controlled by HOAs that contract with private companies. Back during the 90s, one of my co-workers lived in such a community in Fairfax and it took VDOT until four days after the storm ended to get to her community. Additionally, plowing out all the school parking lots will take time as well.

  3. Mikey says:

    This is a ridiculous amount of snow–much worse even than the 2010 storm. We got a bit over two feet in my area.

    I live in a townhouse at the back end of a cul-de-sac. We haven’t seen a plow since Friday night either. The entire cul-de-sac is two feet deep in snow. None of the contract plows will be able to get that pushed anywhere. They’re going to need front-end loaders to move it all. I don’t anticipate being able to get out of here anytime soon.

    Fortunately people have cleared sidewalks (mostly) and there’s a Target five minutes’ walk away (assuming it’s open) so we can hang out for a while. No idea when I’ll be able to get to work, though.

  4. Mikey says:

    @Doug Mataconis: VDOT’s already said they won’t be getting to residential streets until tomorrow at the earliest.

  5. @Mikey:

    Yea, that doesn’t surprise me at all. They have priorities and the side streets and communities are far down the list at this point. I’m in much the same position as you, and have little expectation of getting out of here any time soon.

  6. @Mikey:

    Yea, that doesn’t surprise me at all. They have priorities and the side streets and communities are far down the list at this point. I’m in much the same position as you, and have little expectation of getting out of here any time soon.

  7. lib cap says:

    I was in NYC last week, and got out right before the storm.

    When I was living in Michigan, we ran out of heating fuel one late Friday evening, and I can tell you that a fireplace doesn’t make up for that loss. 45 degrees by late Monday (propane delivery) in the home was bonechilling.

    You can imagine, nat gas was connected to the home as soon as the ground unfroze. A portable generator is now also one of my possessions, and tested often.

    I hope that the power doesn’t go out. As it is, two days loss of services for some (elderly, ill, etc) will be a tragedy.

  8. Tyrell says:

    Down here we got 3 inches of sleet and snow. I guess we are paying for that spring in December weather.

  9. Lynn Eggers says:

    @lib cap: “45 degrees by late Monday (propane delivery) in the home was bonechilling.”

    Above 0?

  10. Ron Beasley says:

    Here on the left coast (Pacific Northwest) we are in the 40 days and 40 nights mode but I hesitate to even complain about the torrential downpours that wake me up in the middle of the night.

  11. CSK says:

    I’m sorry to learn you guys are as socked in as badly as you are. Is it just that you don’t have a sufficient number of drivers and equipment for them to operate? Maybe you should call for some help from Massachusetts. The state sent a contingent of plow operators to D.C. back in 2010, and apparently the residents were so thrilled they were running out of their houses to kiss the plow operators, give them bottles of wine (well, it’s the thought that counts), and other gifts.

    All New England cities and towns have a snow removal budget, and a fleet of equipment on hand. I realize that probably isn’t practical for most places in the south, but it’s good to have that stuff on hand when you need it.

    Most people don’t realize it, but operating a plow (anything from a front-end loader to an actual bulldozer) is very hard work, and it demands a lot of physical strength as well as skill and expertise.

  12. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: I think it’s a combo of things. We have enough equipment to handle a few modest snowstorms a year but get overwhelmed with either too many storms (we run out of our snow budget) or too big a storm (we exceed our capacity to deal with it in a timely fashion). Additionally, I’m not sure where they even PUT the snow when it’s this deep. The drainage around here isn’t great to begin with and there aren’t a lot of ditches and whatnot.

  13. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:

    That is a BIG issue–finding a place to dump the snow. Last year, when we had 101 inches of snow in the course of three weeks, the cities and towns instituted “snow farms” on/in vacant lots and parks as near as possible to rivers. They just dumped the snow into dump trucks and piled it into the farms. A lot had to be dumped into Boston Harbor as an emergency measure. It didn’t melt fast enough to cause any river flooding.

  14. jd says:

    I wonder how the Metro is doing. It used to shut down after a certain depth on the tracks.

  15. CSK says:


    It’s closed all day today, according to their website.

  16. Ron Beasley says:

    @CSK: @CSK: @CSK:When I lived in Munich, Germany in the early 70s we had a major snowstorm. They dumped the snow on the floodplain of the Isar river that runs through the city. Mounds of snow were still there in August. Back then Munich didn’t get that warm even in the summer but I understand that has changed now.

  17. James Pearce says:


    It’s closed all day today

    That’s too bad. At my job, I don’t get to call “snowed in.” The company will send someone to get me and put me up in a hotel if need be.

    I almost always prefer to sleep in my own bed, so I rely on the train. On snow days, it may be a little late, but it’s at least a reliable means of transportation.

  18. lib cap says:

    @Lynn Eggers:

    @lib cap: “45 degrees by late Monday (propane delivery) in the home was bonechilling.”

    Above 0?

    Yes, above 0, but that was the indoor temperature.

    When a modernist home with lots of windows starts losing heat, it sucks. Sleeping at that temperature was terrible.

    Yes, there are worse things, no doubt, but it did make for a miserable albeit survivable weekend.

    Much like many in this storm will experience.

  19. James Joyner says:

    @James Pearce:

    On snow days, it may be a little late, but it’s at least a reliable means of transportation.

    Not around here. Metro is less reliable in bad weather than the roads. Partly because most of it is above ground. Mostly, though, because it’s essentially unique, serving not only DC but parts of Maryland and Virginia. That’s not only a massive coordination problem but one compounded by the fact that people who live in most parts of Maryland and Virginia don’t see any reason they should have to pay for transportation in the DC area.

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Stay safe and be patient. I was living in STL in ’82 when we got the 18″ and it was over a week before things went back to normal. STL is set up for 6-8″ of snow max for reasonable response times. They don’t even bother to plow *residential* streets, just the designated “snow routes”. Obviously enuf they had to do more that time.

  21. DrDaveT says:

    Actually, I was amazed at how well the DC area has handled this so far. They got the forecast right, they got people off the roads before they got really dangerous, they got the Metro cars into the tunnels before they could get buried in their parking areas, and they shut down the highways during the zero-visibility blizzard portions of the program. From what I’ve heard, few or none died of storm directly, and the number of death-by-heart-attack-while-shoveling is lower than usual.

    We’ll see how the recovery goes. As James notes, they have no place to put the snow, and the removal equipment the area tends to own is not suited to 2 (or 3) feet of depth. The original forecast for today was for a melt followed by a hard freeze, which would have been disastrous. The revised forecast is for temperatures right around freezing, but bright sun, followed by teens overnight. Perversely, that means that the areas that are plowed well today will be the worst risk for black ice tomorrow.

    Tuesday, it’s gonna rain. That’s when the flooding will hit…

  22. Slugger says:

    Let me tell you about snowstorms, kids. In 1993, I was on the East Coast visiting a friend. We skied at Stowe, shopped and dined in NYC. A big storm was forecast, and I headed to DC thinking that it was south of snow zones. I was partly right; DIA only got about 14-15 inches of snow while areas in New York got 30-40 inches. I was stuck at the Marriott at Dulles for three days. I learned that Iranian expats will drink all the good Scotch if you don’t watch out and that Mark Twain was right about the readability of the Book of Mormon.
    This is nothing new. It has happened before. Relax, enjoy the moment. A big pile of snow is all kinds of trouble, but it is also beautiful and an opportunity to loosen the reins of everyday life. Take some pictures; in twenty years bring out the pix, and then tell youngsters that this is all nothing new.

  23. @James Joyner:

    Indeed, Metro is unreliable on sunny days. Inclement weather just seems to make things worse.

  24. JKB says:

    @James Joyner: that people who live in most parts of Maryland and Virginia don’t see any reason they should have to pay for transportation in the DC area.

    And well they shouldn’t as most parts of Maryland and, especially, Virginia don’t get any benefit of the Metro. Even distant commuters use the commuter trains vice the subway. Perhaps a local tax on the local suburbs? Or Metro could charge actual market fares, but then no one would ride it.

    You may be disappointed at counting on your grill for some types of cooking. It is very slow to boil water for coffee and such. The small Butane burners like they use for at-table cooking in restaurants are a good emergency backup. They can be used inside and take up very little space.

  25. DrDaveT says:


    most parts of Maryland and, especially, Virginia don’t get any benefit of the Metro

    You think MD and VA wouldn’t miss the taxes paid by people who live outside the District, but commute downtown by Metro? Try again.

  26. Monala says:

    @Ron Beasley: having lived in Boston for years, but now residing in the PNW, I don’t complain about the rain. I know which type of weather I vastly prefer.

    Besides, there are periodic sun breaks. Like this morning. 🙂

  27. Grumpy Realist says:

    When I was growing up in upper New York State we would regularly get snowed in for 3-5 days. The house wasn’t that much of a problem (110 year old house with massive walls and three fireplaces) and we stored many gallons of water down celler just in case) but boy did the cat get bored….

  28. gVOR08 says:

    Checked Weather Channel. Looks like you guys will be OK. A little thaw tomorrow and a lot Tuesday. When all else fails DC can rely on Cincinnati’s time tested 3T snow removal policy. Time, temperature, and traffic.

  29. Moosebreath says:

    We got about 18-20 inches here (Philly burbs). Our street (cul-de-sac with 15 houses) was plowed at least 3 times during the storm. It took about 2 hours to use the snowblower on the drive, get the cars cleared off and moved, use the snowblower where they were, etc., but we are able to get out and had lunch at the Panera’s 2 miles away.

    Best of luck, James. Hope you and the kids are not getting stir-crazy.

  30. Lynn Eggers says:

    @lib cap: “Yes, there are worse things, no doubt, but it did make for a miserable albeit survivable weekend.”

    I live in Minnesota, and we are required — as part of being citizens — to be smug about cold weather.

    You’re right; it would get unpleasant pretty fast.

  31. grumpy realist says:

    @Lynn Eggers: I used to have to take business trips to Minneapolis in the dead of winter and the conversation with people was always the same:

    “I have to visit Minneapolis.”
    “You’re nuts. It’s January. Whatever for?”
    “I have to go stand out by the highway and do research on MNDOT’s snow-moving equipment.”
    “You’re absolutely INSANE!”

    (We were trying to crack open the Japanese market for one of 3M’s products. Japan’s MOT was interested but pointed out that their standard technique of having snow poles to mark the edges of the roads was in fact almost as effective. There were also customization issues which would have make the product ridiculously expensive, so we dropped the idea.)

  32. Mikey says:

    We just walked over to the nearby Target store. They had a couple registers open (employees who live within walking distance) and a few other staff. Not many other patrons.

    Our street is still two feet deep in snow, the feeder street has a single lane plowed (for emergency vehicles), and the main road actually looked pretty good. A neighbor who is a nurse was holed up at the hospital where she works for a couple days, but managed to drive and park in the Target parking lot and she said most of the main roads are in good shape. If I could actually get out of my neighborhood, I could drive somewhere.

    Overall the response to this huge storm has been very good, I think. There were almost no power outages, people actually listened to the calls to stay off the roads, VDOT has done a great job of clearing those roads (at least in my area), and once the residential streets are dealt with, life can return to normal.

    But holy crap, there’s a lot of snow out there.

  33. grumpy realist says:

    Friend in Alexandria just reported the power is back on (we hope permanently).

  34. bookdragon says:

    @Moosebreath: I’m a little farther north in Philly ‘burbs and got almost 30″. Schools are closed today because not enough side roads are cleared for buses to make around, but the main roads are all clear.

    It took awhile to dig out since the snowblower died halfway through, but otherwise not really too bad. Granted, we move here from MI, so 30″ doesn’t strike us as ‘snowmageddon’. I still remember the blizzard in ’78 that left snow so deep that my dad had to lower himself out of our upstairs window so he could shovel the 4ft or so of snow away from the front door.

  35. MarkedMan says:

    Can someone pull my comment from the spam box?

  36. Mikey says:


    Granted, we move here from MI, so 30″ doesn’t strike us as ‘snowmageddon’.

    I grew up in Michigan and as far as I’m concerned 30″ of snow from a single storm is a Snowpocalypse. Living in Northern VA now this is the most snow I ever remember seeing come down at once, and I was 12 in 1978 so I can remember that one. The past three days I have shoveled through drifts four feet deep myself. It’s epic.

  37. CSK says:

    So how is it going? Any progress?

  38. Mikey says:

    @CSK: My cul-de-sac is finally plowed. The feeder road has had some work done, it’s still basically one lane but at least that lane isn’t a foot deep in slush and muck. I may head to the office today.

    It’s going to be in the 40-degree F range today which means a couple inches of this stuff should melt, but now we have massive piles everywhere that will take days and days to go, and of course some of it will end up in people’s basements. My wife and I dug a deep trench between our parking area and the storm drain to help prevent this, but when they plowed out the cul-de-sac they put all the snow…right in front of the storm drain. Ugh. Hopefully my cars don’t float away.

    Local school systems have already called off school tomorrow. I don’t anticipate any school this week, actually, since many of the kids walk to school and there’s nowhere to walk except the road right now. But we’ll see.

  39. CSK says:

    If you can get out, that’s an improvement. I hope the melt goes slowly; a quick one with that amount of snow can be bad.