By Melissa Rivera
Yes, I know all of you in the West, in your light-jacket-temperatures, are chortling about those wuss easterners who can’t handle a little snow and cold. And, frankly, at least in northern Virginia, there’s some truth to that. Our local school district canceled school for two days in response to the “bomb cyclone.” We got less than six inches of snow. To be fair, though, the wind was strong enough to push the wind chill to around 0 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks. And knock a squirrel out of a tree. I’d never seen that before.
Other places got it worse.
Five feet of snow buried Erie, Penn., over Christmas, blocking people in their homes.
In Boston, storm surge from the New Year’s nor’easter sent slushy seawater flooding into streets. People had to quickly evacuate homes and submerged cars. The flood waters then froze in place, turning streets into feet-deep ice rinks and blocking fire hydrants.
About 79,000 people lost power throughout the eastern U.S.
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New York City’s Central Park had more snow on the ground than had been seen in 30 years. In New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, the storm canceled flights, then a deep freeze caused equipment malfunction, leading to more delayed or canceled flights and problems retrieving luggage. Police had to break up a fight. The cold also caused pipes to burst, flooding a terminal with three feet of water.
According to the New York Times, New York Senator Chuck Schumer complained, “J.F.K. has to follow the Boy Scouts’ motto: ‘Be prepared.’ They weren’t.”
My family was prepared, mainly because we just moved from the west. Where we live in northern Virginia didn’t get hit that hard. The power never went out. My husband could get to Washington, D.C. for work, though traffic was abominable. My younger children spent their two snow days outside, trying unsuccessfully to build snowmen with powdery snow and sledding down hills that quickly became mud.
So, why did they have snow days anyway? For starters, the roads weren’t cleared. Cities here contract with the Virginia Department of Transportation to remove snow. In northern Virginia alone, that’s almost 18,000 lane miles, according to VDOT. The nearest VDOT headquarters is in another city a 20 minute drive from ours in good weather. VDOT says it has access to 4,000 snow clearing vehicles in northern Virginia, but adds that most are pickup trucks with snow blades. You know those big snow trucks used to clear major roads? VDOT in northern Virginia has two of them. (To be fair, the roads here are so narrow and winding, the big trucks wouldn’t work on many of them.)
I’ve been told the temperature here usually rises quickly after snowfall, so solar plowing is a fairly effective form of snow control. Right before the January 4 storm, I went to buy snow melt for our steps and sidewalk, just in case. I had to ask for help to find it. It was in the far back of the store, behind Christmas decorations on clearance.
A couple of days after the storm, snow melt was displayed front and center in another store.
It’s been cold and windy enough that the snow didn’t melt. It wasn’t as bad as Mount Washington, Vermont, which tied the record for the second-coldest place on earth with a wind chill temperature of -96. But it was cold enough that my 12-year-old special needs daughter was crying after waiting outside for her bus for a half hour, even though I bundled her up like the little kid in “A Christmas Story.” It was cold enough that my cell phone froze when I tried to use it to call the school district’s transportation department to learn the reason behind the wait. It was cold enough that some school buses didn’t work, including my daughter’s.
It was windy enough to knock over full trash cans and send them –and their contents – sliding down slick roads. And it was cold enough and windy enough that I watched a squirrel on a branch get caught in a wind gust and slip off. Fortunately, it only fell a few feet, to the roof of a home.
My kids went back to school today, with a two-hour delayed start time. I just got a message saying that, because of impending inclement weather, school would be dismissed two hours early. At least we’re still prepared for the weather. Here we go again.
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