News & Politics

Umbrellas Are Not for the Snow

Don't be a weather wimp.

Photographs by Benjamin Freed.

The photo above was taken from Washingtonian’s office. In the lower right-hand corner, you can see an individual walking down the sidewalk using an umbrella for protection. From what, exactly? Possibly the light snowfall that is currently dusting the city with, at most, three inches of fresh powder. As you can see, this umbrella-toting person is not alone. Peek through the trees and you’ll see two pedestrians on the corner of 19th and L streets, Northwest, underneath half-domes of water-resistant cloth.

Every time Washington gets even the tracest amount of snow, there are some people around here who grab their umbrellas at the first gentle flake. This is ridiculous. And while it’s not a manuever specific to DC—New York suffers from the same phenomenon—it is an ugly image that reinforces the notion that Washingtonians panic at the slightest hint of winter. Here are two more offenders making their way down shoveled sidewalks hugging a freshly plowed roadway.

Clearly, it is time for an intervention. Repeat this sentence: Umbrellas are not for the snow.

An umbrella is a device used to protect the user from either rain or direct sunlight. While umbrellas have no single point of origin, they are seen in history as far back to the fifth century BC in Greece and the first century AD in China. But they are not for the snow. Umbrellas are useful during rain because rain water can penetrate layers of clothing. Their bulkiness is tolerated because of their utility. Raincoats are designed the same way. Snowflakes can be brushed off most fabrics, and do not even cling to snow-specific apparel like parkas and ski jackets. None of the umbrella-carrying jokers seen here appear to be wearing raincoats. Some of them might even have hats or hoods on their heads!

Perhaps Washington is just overrun with office-dwellers who are more willing to admit their seasonal weakness than suffer a few hours of hat hair. But they’re only hurting the cause. As long as even a few people walk down these lightly sprinkled streets with umbrellas over their heads, Washington will continue to be seen as a town that panics in the snow.

Just to be clear, it is acceptable to use an umbrella if:

  • It’s raining
  • The sunlight at the beach is too intense
  • You’re starring in a mid-20th century musical about blending into high society
  • You’re a magical British nanny and you need to make a quick getaway

It is not acceptable to use an umbrella when:

  • It’s snowing

You know who else used an umbrella in the snow?

Screenshot from Batman Returns.

Oswald Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin. Don’t be like the Penguin, people.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.