News & Politics

The Blogger Beat: Capital Weather Gang

We check in with members of Capital Weather Gang and get their forecast on everything from Thanksgiving weather to government snow days.

Will it rain? Jamie Jones, Jason Samenow, and Dan Stillman are trying to decide. Photograph by Chris Leaman

Jason Samenow launched Capital Weather Gang, a blog about Washington weather, in 2003. Back then, he was the only contributor. “I immediately recognized a blog’s potential to facilitate a two-way dialogue between readers and forecasters,” says Samenow. “I also liked the dynamic nature of blog content given the dynamic nature of weather.”

In 2004, Samenow enlisted weather techie Jamie Jones, who converted the site into a group blog and helped add contributors. Last year, the Washington Post picked up Capital Weather Gang to host on its own site. Entries run the gamut from daily weather forecasts (obviously) to weekly commentary on climate-change issues. Says Samenow: “We try to write accurate, informative, and entertaining posts for the Washington-weather consumer.”

Today the site has more than a dozen contributors, almost all of whom have other full-time jobs. We sat down with Samenow, Jones, and lead meteorologist Dan Stillman to get their bests and worsts on Washington weather. Read on for their predictions about everything from government snow days to Thanksgiving Day weather—and find out what they’ve promised to do if they’re wrong.

On a scale of 1 to 10, rate the difficulty of predicting Washington weather—1 being “easy as pie” and 10 being “you have a better chance of winning the lottery.”
Jason: “I’d say a 5. Forecasting here is pretty straightforward about half of the time, but the other half of the time it alternates between challenging and bewildering. ‘Bewildering’ being the operative word when trying to pin down the rain/snow line in winter.”
Dan: “I’d give it a 6. It’s certainly no piece of cake, but I also don’t think it’s any more or less challenging than a lot of places across the country. Seems like everywhere you go—except maybe San Diego—the locals always think they have the craziest and most unpredictable weather of anywhere.”
Jamie: “Seven. The metro area is so expansive—Gaithersburg to Fredericksburg, Annapolis to Winchester—that what is happening one place may be completely different than the other. Six inches of snow in Montgomery County might be a half inch of rain in Stafford, and trying to draw that line is tough.”

Pick one: rain or snow.
Jason: “Snow is the reason I’m in this profession. I loved it as a kid and wanted to be the first person to know it was coming—hence why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
Dan: “Oh, please—absolutely, positively, definitely snow! Rain doesn’t get you out of school or give you an excuse to be late for work. There’s just nothing quite like a fresh coat of snow. The outside looks, feels, and sounds different with snow in the air or on the ground.”
Jamie: “Snow. One’s a rarity and diversion from everyday life, and one just makes me find my umbrella.”

Al Roker or Sam Champion?
Jason: “Definitely Al. I don’t watch Sam, and Champion strikes me as a phony last name.”
Dan: “Al Roker. He’s just so darn jolly!”
Jamie: “Can I pick Punxsutawney Phil? Now, that’s a forecaster who can really make an entrance. He uses drama, a geek-like cryptic language, and a top hat to predict the end of winter. Let’s see Al Roker wear that sort of fur coat.”

Best season for Washington weather:
Jason: “Winter for the snow—when we get it. The snowfall output for the last six winters has been pretty pathetic.”
Dan: “The forecaster in me says winter because it’s always fun trying to predict snow and knowing that thousands are ready to call you out if you get it wrong. Personally, though, I’d go with early fall. It’s still kind of warm, but the humidity is no longer much of an issue. Plus, you get some really awesome days that start out a bit crisp, and then because the air is so dry, it can warm up as much as 30 degrees or more.”
Jamie: “Spring gets the nod because all too often, such as this year, autumn starts late or ends early. And autumn makes you deal with leaves.”

Your prediction for the number of government snow days this winter:
Jason: “I’m going to go out on a limb and predict one snow day this winter. The last time the federal government shut down due to snow was in February 2003 when we had the big blizzard. Snow days for us federal employees—I’m one of them—are actually quite rare. It takes a big storm.”
Dan: “Zero. We all know Obama thinks Washington snowstorms are wimpy. But seriously, since it’s not actually the President’s call, I’ll go with one. Yes, we’re due for some good bouts of snow around here. But with our luck, most of the snow chances will probably come on the weekend.”
Jamie: “Three. Expect a few big storms to drop enough snow to bring the city to a halt. Whether the Office of Personnel Management closes it down or not, I know I’ll be taking a few.”

Strangest weather pattern you’ve ever seen in Washington:
Jason: “In January 1994, it was decidedly cold, but storm after storm would come through with no snow and just ice. It was 18 degrees outside and raining at one point. Of course, that covered roads with thick sheets of ice and school was out for a week. I wasn’t about to complain.”
Dan: “I don’t know about the strangest, but one of the most annoying would be the one in early September when a storm system just sat off the coast for almost a full week keeping Washington mostly cloudy and showery at times. More importantly (for me at least), it socked Ocean City in with clouds, rain, wind, and temperatures no higher than the 60s. A whole week at the beach (with a 21-month-old, mind you) and not even one halfway decent beach day. For whatever reason, bad-vacation-weather luck is even more frustrating when you’re a meteorologist. I’m not bitter or anything though.”
Jamie: “This one time, it snowed when forecasted . . . . ”

Favorite activity to do inside when it’s raining:
Jason: “Read a good book or maybe play a game of Scrabble.”
Dan: “Sleep. Or watch the rain on radar and predict when it will end. (Yes, I know, rather pathetic.)”
Jamie: “Catching up on my never-ending pile of work and tasks, both for the Gang and my other endeavors. Oh, and Yahtzee!”

Your prediction for the weather on Thanksgiving:
Jason: “Partly sunny and breezy. Highs in the 50s.”
Dan: “My recollection is that the weather never seems to be ‘normal’ on Thanksgiving. I feel like it’s always really cold or really mild. So I’ll go with windy and a high in the 40s, maybe even a snow flurry. Or maybe sunny with highs near 70 and a chance of a passing shower. That should pretty much cover it, no?”
Jamie: “An overcast day but no rain. Cold, with temperatures starting in the lows 30s but rising to the low 50s. Under such seasonable fall temperatures, it’ll be just right for my family to try and con me into participating in the great Jones family tradition of raking the yard.”

Tony Perkins ate a sock when he got the weather wrong on Labor Day weekend. What do you promise to do if you’re wrong about Thanksgiving?
Jason: “I’ll write Black Friday’s forecast in Pig Latin.”
Dan: “How about I promise to provide a detailed explanation of how I wasn’t really wrong since I used words like ‘maybe,’ ‘chance,’ and ‘near’?”
Jamie: “What if I’m wrong? I’m gonna have to rake the leaves.”

Favorite weather-related movie:
Jason:Groundhog Day with Bill Murray—hilarious and uplifting.”
Dan: “Honestly, I wasn’t so into movies like Twister and The Perfect Storm. Following the real thing in real time is more exciting for me. It’s kind of tangential to weather, but I do love Groundhog Day.”
Jamie: “Tons to choose from, and although Groundhog Day was a close second, first has to be Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. What’s better than Steve Martin, John Candy, ’80s music, and a Midwestern blizzard? I can still remember my mom shrieking every time Neal Page uses Del Griffith’s underwear as a towel.”

Finish this sentence: “If I could name a hurricane, it’d be called . . . ”
Jason: “Jason. I’ve always wanted a storm named after me. In 2011, the J storm is Jose, which might be the closest Spanish equivalent to Jason. Look out!”
Dan: “Hmmm . . . I’m having a tough time choosing between Hurricane Snyder or Hurricane Cerrato. Can I have two?”
Jamie: “In French. As in, I don’t need a hurricane impacting anything on this side of the Atlantic. Having grown up on and around the water, I’m fascinated by the strong ocean storms and their power and fury but could do without ever having to see and deal with their results up close. That said, the traffic a hurricane would bring to the Web site would be great.”

Where we might find you when you’re not blogging about the weather:
Jason: “At a University of Virginia football or basketball game (Go, ’Hoos!), on the golf course, or having a nice dinner out with my lovely wife.”
Dan: “At the playground with my wonderful wife and son, watching Michigan football, or on the computer checking the radar and weather models (even when I’m not on duty!)”
Jamie: “When not blogging, I’m often out doing activities with friends and family or following University of Virginia athletics, the only endeavor that seemingly disappoints more than the weather. That, or trying to get ahead on my never-ending list of side projects and chores.”

Favorite local blog besides your own:
Jason: “I like reading DCist for all things DC, and to get the latest scoop on local media.” I’m kind of a local-media junkie.”
Jamie: “Dan Steinberg’s DC Sports Bog for the wit, snark, and modern perspective on all things Washington sports. My guilty pleasure, sometimes relating to Washington, is”

Next week, Washington Wizards whiz Mike Prada from Bullets Forever chats about the new season, new coach, and newly healed Gilbert Arenas. Check back on Wednesday for the interview!

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