News

We Asked Pat Collins How He Got the Idea for the Snow Measuring Stick

Plus, the time he got into a snowball fight with Marion Barry.
Photograph of Collins Courtesy of NBC Universal.
Winter Fun

About Winter Fun

This article is a part of Washingtonian’s feature: Winter Fun Indoors & Out. Our editors and staff pulled together the best things to do this winter, including snowball fights, cozy places to get a drink, ice skating, and more.

It’s not a real storm if Channel 4’s Pat Collins isn’t outside measuring the drifts with a yardstick.

Do you actually like snow?

I like big snow, what I call stick-worthy snow—five inches or more. A really big snow gives us a whole different perspective on the ordinary things we see and hear in our everyday life. It muffles sound and creates a sense of outdoor beauty. Put down the iPhone, walk away from the computer, get outside, and enjoy the day.

How did you become a snow reporter?

Back in the ’80s, I realized there was sometimes a great disparity in the amount of snow from one neighborhood to another. I started going from place to place taking measurements and talking to people about how the snow was impacting their lives. I grabbed a yardstick from my daughter Salley, a four-sided stick from the C&P phone company—ask your grandparents to explain that.

Then came Snowmageddon back in 2010, about 17 inches of snow in two days. I was out live for hours and hours, measuring every inch as it came down.

Didn’t you spend a lot of that day at a gas station?

Why there? Well, that’s where they repair our live trucks. We had a truck there with a broken water pump, but the live part worked. Connecticut Avenue turned into a snow-covered boulevard. People out and about for all sorts of reasons.

Brenda with flesh-colored leggings and a stylish mink hat—she said she got it from one of her ex-husbands—out in the snow looking for a cup of coffee. Really, where do you expect to get coffee in the middle of a blizzard? The Exxon station, she said.

I asked one lady: “What brings you out in the snow?” “I’m going to the Giant up in Friendship Heights,” she told me. Why? “I have a coupon for a free deli sandwich.” Two hours later, I see her walking back; she says she got lost and disoriented. I said, “Let me see that sandwich.” Yikes—it looked like a biology experiment.

As time went on, there was a parade of people. Some brought food, others brought their pets. Everyone had a snow story. It was big TV fun.

What are some of your favorite snowstorms?

There was the time I had a snowball fight with Mayor Marion Barry. Back then, the city’s snow emergency plan could be described in one word: spring. The mayor said, “The good Lord brought the snow to us, and he will take it away.”

This article appears in the January 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

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Andrew Beaujon Washingtonian
Senior editor

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.