As Washington braces for a winter storm (and the metro area’s inability to deal with winter storms), my mind wandered back five years.
On Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011, almost exactly five years ago, Mimi and I drove nine hours to get home from the heart of Washington to our home in the Virginia suburbs. In good traffic, the drive usually took less than 45 minutes. In normal Washington traffic, an hour was not unusual, an hour and a half certainly possible.
But when it snows in Washington …
I am not the only one to remember that evening (or my whining about that evening):
Every time this happens to Washington I think of a dear former colleague @stevebuttry and his 11-hour ride home from work in 2011.
— Justin Karp (@jskarp) January 21, 2016
Nine hours, 11 hours. For recalling a nightmare from five years ago, two hours seemed a minor exaggeration.
David Heyman (who will appear more in this tale later) also recalled our shared 2011 Odyssey:
— David Heyman (@dcborn61) January 21, 2016
My daughter-in-law, Ashley Douglass, took three hours to get home in some light snow Wednesday evening, prompting her husband, Tom, to ask if I had the link from my account of the 2011 trek to share with her. He thought it was on this blog, but it was on TBD.com, the Washington local news site I helped launch less than six months before that snowy day.
The TBD archives were preserved a few years, but have vanished from the Internet. I couldn’t even find my story of the snowy commute on the Wayback Machine (which preserves snapshots from websites, but not full archives). But I did save the html files.
Some background on that day before I share my five-year-old tale: This was the year after Snowmageddon and Snowpocalypse paralyzed Washington for days. But not every winter storm forecast for DC materializes as predicted. At least a couple times earlier in January 2011, weather forecasters had warned of potentially snowpolalyptic storms that either missed Washington entirely or only provided a light dusting. So when we were warned of the Jan. 26 storm, most of Washington shrugged and headed to work as normal. But this time the forecast actually lowballed the storm. By mid-afternoon, huge, wet flakes were falling fast, sticking to the streets, and the federal government (and nearly everyone else) shut down early, sending virtually every vehicle in Washington into the streets at the same time.
I’ve spent most of my life in the Midwestern states of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and North Dakota. I know winter storms, and laugh at Washington’s inability to handle light snow. But this was a genuine winter storm, falling fast and hard and wet on a metro area whose drivers and cities don’t know what do with a mild winter snow that wouldn’t cancel school in Iowa.
So here is my account of my commute from hell (on a day off even!) five years ago (with a few updates): (more…)