News & Politics

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.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.