News & Politics

Tommy McFly on What It’s Like to Be (Temporarily!) in Charge of Pat Collins’s Snow Stick

The NBC4 reporter spent a day as the snow stick's caretaker. He is in awe of its power.

Photograph courtesy Tommy McFly.

Pat Collins’s famous snow stick is lighter than you might expect, says NBC4 correspondent Tommy McFly. But the burden of carrying it is heavy indeed.

McFly took temporary charge of the Washington-area icon Tuesday to present a snow stick to the winner of the station’s annual “Snow Stick Challenge,” which asks viewers to predict the date and time when an inch of snow will fall at National Airport. The winner was Jordan Smith of Alexandria, a teacher whose guess was closest under what McFly calls “Price Is Right rules.” She accepted the stick alongside her dog, Louie. (The stick measured two inches of snow for the occasion.)

Smith, McFly, and Louie. Photograph courtesy Tommy McFly.

None of this means that Tommy McFly is the permanent new custodian of the snow stick. He’s not! Still, he clearly adores the thing and marvels that it “comes equipped with an almanac of the largest snowfalls in local history going back to 1922” printed on its exterior. The original snow stick, Collins told Washingtonian in 2019, was a yardstick from C&P Telephone. Its power became apparent during the 2010 “Snowmageddon” event, which Collins called “big TV fun.”

Collins retired at the end of 2022, and measurable snow has been elusive until now. Coincidence? Perhaps. McFly said there was a palpable buzz when he walked through the newsroom holding the device—”I had to go back and scan my eye and two keys had to be turned for the case to open,” he says. His posture immediately improved once he touched the snow stick, he says, and his skin cleared up. All of this sounds plausible to Washingtonian. (I would be personally disappointed if it didn’t sing like Excalibur when someone picked it up.)

McFly doesn’t know when or even whether someone will be chosen to take over Collins’s snow stick duties permanently. The stick “has always been a team effort among our NBC4 staff,” says Matt Glassman, the station’s news director. “It has an identity of its own, which will always be Washington’s most sought-after celebrity during snowstorms.”

Whosoever carries the stick will hold an impressive piece of analog snow-measuring equipment, McFly says. Rather than tungsten, carbon fiber, or another space-age material milled to a precise tolerance, the device appears to be made of wood, he says, with some sort of coating, “so it’s able to be dipped into snow for decades to come.”

Collins, McFly says, has given him great advice over the years and that the local broadcasting legend “gets the kind of journalism that I do.” He called Collins a “great American” and expressed a desire that he win a Kennedy Center Honor one day. (Collins is, in some quarters, considered a beat poet.) “Tommy is a great TV talent,” Collins tells Washingtonian. “The snow stick is in good hands. Let the measuring begin.”

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.