DC Snow: Beyond Thundersnow

The presidential motorcade heads towards Air Force One to pick up President Barack Obama, not pictured, during a snow storm at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. , as he returned from the climate conference in Copenhagen, early Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009. President Obama typically travels via Marine One helicopter from Andrews Air Force Base to the White House but a motorcade was used due to inclement weather.

The presidential motorcade heads towards Air Force One to pick up President Barack Obama, not pictured, during a snow storm at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. , as he returned from the climate conference in Copenhagen, early Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009. President Obama typically travels via Marine One helicopter from Andrews Air Force Base to the White House but a motorcade was used due to inclement weather.

In what I thought was just a tradition in the Deep South, the local media are hyping a snowstorm.

Snow and winds have increased overnight blanketing the metro region with 4-8″ of snow. Before long, we will be buried by several times that amount making this a record breaking December storm. Double digit accumulations have already been reported to our south in central Virginia. This is a dangerous, severe storm with the worst still to come.

Snowfall rates will average around 1″ per hour today, with higher rates at times and the possibility of thundersnow. Winds will increase to near 20 mph with higher gusts, causing some blowing snow and the possibility of blizzard conditions, especially east of the District where winds may reach or exceed 30 mph. The snow will likely not start tapering off until after 7 p.m. tonight and may not completely end until early Sunday morning. Do not travel unless absolutely necessary.

The National Weather Service says it’s serious:




Which is pretty incredible when you think about it.   As late as the 1950s, DC thought of itself as part of the South.  (Indeed, one of the roots of the heated rivalry between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys is that the ownership in DC bitterly fought the creation of an expansion team in Dallas because they had theretofore had the Southern fan base to themselves.)   But nobody in the South these days thinks of DC — much less Baltimore — as anything but northeastern.   Further, unlike Alabama — where significant snow accumulation is so rare that it doesn’t make sense to spend the money to have a large arsenal of removal equipment — it snows in these parts pretty routinely.    I’ve certainly shoveled snow that was more than 12 inches deep since moving to the area, although that’s partly attributable to “drift,” so it wasn’t officially that deep.

But, really, what’s the big deal?   So far, the biggest nuisance is that some idiot snowplow driver knocked over our mailbox in the middle of the night.  It’s a weekend, so most people really don’t need to go anywhere.   Weather-related power outages would be a problem, of course, but we don’t seem to have any of those, at least not yet.

I’ve spent most of my life in places where snowfall is rare and accumulations go away in a day or three.  But I’ve also spent time in Germany, where people just deal with it.  And my wife’s from New England, where they don’t cancel school unless the snow gets deeper than the average height of the kids.

Why the annual panic every time there’s a bit of snow?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    Well, I was planning on driving up to DC tomorrow night. That’s going to be put off for a day or two.

    I don’t mind driving in snow, though my current tires aren’t really made for it. I learned to drive in Massachusetts, after all. My concern is that streets will be clogged and there’ll be no on-street parking at my final destination, G’town. My hostess will have to get me a parking permit, something not likely to be accomplished today. Monday might look better.

    I’ll give the city a couple of days to clear things up.

    When I was growing up in New England, they didn’t cancel snow when it was ‘average kid’ height. I recall walking to school and not being able to see the buses passing by six feet away from the shoveled sidewalks.

    BTW, the real sting in the Redskins/Cowboys rivalry was that the dastardly expansion team took the Redskins’ star quarterback, Eddy Lebaron. His first game back at Griffith Stadium was raucous, to say the least.

  2. Dan Collins says:

    Do you really not know? Snow is Republican Obstructionism.

  3. sam says:

    It’s a weekend, so most people really don’t need to go anywhere.

    Count your blessings. When I lived back East the damned things seemed always to strike on Tuesday morning….

  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    If you don’t know why people would be talking about the snow, google ‘gore effect’ and then consider where Obama is going.

    There are a lot of mainstream media reports that don’t make sense if you haven’t read some blogs first.

  5. James Joyner says:

    If you don’t know why people would be talking about the snow, google ‘gore effect’ and then consider where Obama is going.

    Actually, he was coming BACK from Copenhagen. Where, if you haven’t seen the news, he singlehandedly negotiated a treaty fixing everything. He apparently overcorrected a mite, however.

  6. just me says:

    Well I live in the real Northeast where a foot of snow several times of year is routine. People up here don’t panic, and I think the real difference is that we tend to mostly get snow where down south we got a lot more ice with the snow or just ice.

    Snow I can handle, I don’t like the ice.

    The panic is silly, but there has always been panic in the south. Just the mention of the word snow would send everyone rushing out to the grocery stores to buy food as if a snow storm of a few inches was the coming apocalypse. I figure the attitude hasn’t changed so much even if some aspects of the region no longer seem to really be the south.

  7. JKB says:

    Well, unless the city has gotten better since I was their for a two-foot snow earlier this decade, it is a disaster for the city proper. Suburbia will plow out okay by Sunday afternoon but for the snow I experienced, the city didn’t plow some roads for a week or more. It’ll be interesting, as a non-resident, to see if the brainiacs in the DC government pull a Seattle and skip the salt.

  8. Chris Allen says:

    Mr. Joyner,

    You are wrong on one count. Baltimore certainly is and always has been more a southern city than DC. Come on up and I will show you why.


  9. I used to live in DC. 8 inches of snow in Washington and the locals will be reduced to cannibalism and praying to a fly-blown pig’s head before the day is out.

  10. 11B40 says:


    Yesterday, there were reports from Copenhagen that a “blizzard” had deposited four inches of snow. Blizzard? Ha! In the Bronx of my youth, that wouldn’t even have been a snow holiday. What’s become of the Vikings?

  11. Matt says:

    lol @ 4 inches being a blizzard. In my old state of Illinois that would of been considered a normal amount of snow. I actually delivered pizza in a foot of snow while driving a CRX. Some areas of town I’d get through intersections by sliding on the bottom of the car. Naturally I find this and the reactions of locals here in Texas amusing.. “IT”S SNOWING!!!” no it’s sleet…

  12. Our Paul says:

    Spent four years in D.C. during the Eisenhower years while it was kind of a sleepy town. The Arena theater moved to its “new quarters”, a converted brewery house, and University ID would get you ½ price tickets to symphony and other cultural events.

    Great memories, but among the best was the first time I watched the natives try to conquer an inclined plane while in a car after three inches of snow. Pedal to the metal on the way up (usually side ways), on the way down, brake pedal to the floor for a white knuckle skid to either the bottom or nirvana.

    Times change, said Paul, son of the Duke Aetrides as he rallied the Freman to his cause on the desert planet of Arrakis, and so it is now:

    A snow dump in Washington will predictably bring out giggles and insane laughter of the climate deniers who rolling around on the floor shout out: “How can this be, the planet is getting warmer!!!”

    And of course Dr. Joyner, spying a millimeter crack of opportunity in the news that the President had to motorcade into D.C. could not resist a cheap shot at Obama. Not much a chance of James ever will overcorrect his dense Obama phobia, not even a mite…

    Psst 1#: yetanotherjohn, expand your Universe, engage your brain cells in more than senseless prattle, try this review of the recent climate change controversy.

    Psst 2#: If you happen to be thinking of the “Big One”, 11B40, sometime in the late 1940’s, City Island (my home town!!!), at the tip end of the Bronx, was isolated and impenetrable for 10 days.

  13. just me says:

    Well technically a blizzard has nothing to do with snowfall totals, but with high winds and finely textured snow, so it is possible for 4 inches of snow to have caused a blizzard.

    However, 4 inches of snow wouldn’t close school down here-4 inches of snow probably wouldn’t even result in anyone hunkering down and waiting out the snowfall.

  14. John Burgess says:

    Let’s run this ‘idiots can’t drive in snow’ business in reverse…

    Can you imagine the commentary if, say, Minneapolis went for two months with 95 degree weather? Piss and moan much? No, no chance of that. How about a hurricane in Denver, or even Kansas City?

    Different places, different facts on the ground.

    DC is in the Mid-Atlantic region. It gets some of the worst of both northern and southern climates. I think it’s northern enough to require a good supply of snow plows and de-icer, but the city council thinks the money could be better used elsewhere.

    I no longer live in DC. The city council is just one of the reasons, but local government is 95% of the reason.

    Just as an aside, Clinton used a motorcade to move between Belfast and Derry/Londonderry back in the mid-90s. Marine-1 pilots didn’t want to fly in weather that went from snow to rain to sunshine to hail to snow to hail to sunshine to rain, all with 50mph winds, and all in one day.

  15. Sandra says:

    8:30 am we had about 8 inches of fine powdery snow,
    12 hours later it’s well over 2 ft, (using the backyard and yardstick method and none of that was blown snow, or from shoveling elsewhere.

    We live in Anne Arundel County, up near BWI, very little air traffic, and blizzard conditions for most of the afternoon. For a time my husband’s pickup truck was buried in a snowdrift.

    I grew-up in the Great Lakes region, and been through a few “record snowfalls before.”

    This was a serious snowfall.

    At 9:45am one of the Mall’s had a PR person trying to drum up customers to come on out on a local news show. All while State and Local authorities, as well as all the weather folks were not only urging people to stay home and off the roads, but not to try to shovel out until it finally stops.

    It was a once in a lifetime epic storm that is not over yet. It was not “overblown” rather, all the years prior that every flake was going to be a record breaker had numbed us to the REAL news.

  16. JKB says:

    Well it is a bit crazy in DC. Stupidity on all sides in this video of a DC detective brandishing his firearm at some kids throwing snowballs at Hummers.

    The cop is driving a Hummer in DC and gets upset when the liberal youngins pelt it. Does he not know he’s in the progressive paradise but driving a symbol of evil?

    First the solution would have been to drive through and call in patrol, then return, not try to escalate a potential crowd situation. The kids might want to think about the intelligence demonstrated by taunting and throwing snowballs at someone who is brandishing a gun. Even if you or especially if you, think it is a cop.

    But it is a good slogan for the storm and the cops: “Don’t bring a gun to a snowball fight.”

  17. It’s true. Baltimore is southern in culture…and of course very Catholic…not that either has ennathing to do with its weather. The Duchess of Windsor was always proud of being a Baltimorean born and bred!