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It’s Perfectly Okay to Panic About Snow in DC

Wisconsin Avenue in 2010. Photograph by dmackieboy/via iStock.

Anytime Washington faces a snow event, they appear: The people who shame their neighbors for being weather wimps.

But—and if it helps my argument, please note that my parents for some reason only recently fled one of the snowiest places in the US—there are perfectly good reasons to beware of even non-memorable snowstorms in this area. Here are just a few:

  1. We don’t get a lot of snow here, so governments plan accordingly. In an FAQ about snow removal, the city of Alexandria answers the question “I used to live in Chicago/Buffalo/Pittsburgh, and they always did a better job responding to snow” by noting it “typically receives 15 inches of snowfall per year” and that its “snow budget and plans are set based on this expectation, with some additional contingencies.”  Even the District of Columbia, now pretty good at clearing snow, has, at best, “345 pieces of equipment and approximately 750 personnel available for any given storm,” including private contractors, to clear 2,300 miles of roads.
  2. If you have kids, prepare to spend some time with them. Many Washington-area school districts are quick-draws when it comes to school closings, and for good reason. Fairfax County Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey Platenberg told the Washington Post his decision to close schools in advance of the 2013 “Snowquester” non-storm was based on “the idea of young, inexperienced high school drivers out on frozen stuff.” Local governments remember all too well the 2011 snowstorm that trapped drivers for hours on area roads, and no one wants a lawsuit. They’ll be home with you. Here are some ideas of stuff you can do with them.
  3. Snow is a pain, even if you plan ahead. Even people who’d never dream of ransacking a Giant and pre-treat their sidewalks with liquid magnesium chloride will tell you it just plain sucks to deal with a lot of snow, especially if you live somewhere you can’t count on plows coming through. Also, snow shoveling is kind of dangerous! The Cleveland Clinic estimates 11,000 people per year go to the hospital because of snow shoveling, 7 percent of them for heart attacks. The American Heart Association has tips about staying safe while shoveling—including advice to not drink beforehand, which may be difficult if you’re stuck in the house with your kids.

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.