The Blizzard of 2016

Last Monday I was taking a break from shoveling. Sitting on the front stoop, which was shoveled and sun-melted the day before, I could hear what passes for silence in a large metropolitan suburb. The Beltway traffic muttered from over the trees, hills, and sound barriers. I had not seen a car on our street all day, reduced as it was to one lane, now melted clear but still narrow. Meltwater dripped into gutters and gurgled out downspouts. High overhead a jet roared, invisible but audibly heading south. Perhaps a planeful of lucky people from Boston or Hartford were flying to the eternal warmth of the Caribbean.


Our house as the blizzard began.

We had a light, wet snow on Sunday, January 17. It was the first snowfall of what had been a mild and semi-dry winter. It was a mess, but not a big deal. Everything melted off of the roads. But by the next day the weather forecasters were promising a major storm at the end of the week.

It turned out to be one of the three or four biggest single snowfalls in the history of the region. All week the predictions were uniform and consistent. Apparently all the elements were firmly in place: cold enough to snow, certainty of the low pressure storm center that came ashore in the pacific Northwest about Sunday would in fact ride the Jet Stream down to the Carolinas, and would indeed transfer its energy to the coastal low which was in precisely the right place to form up well south of the Washington area.

As the storm approached I promised my family on the west coast that I would post on Facebook to record the development of the storm and demonstrate that we still had electricity. What follows are the transcripts of those postings, interspersed with a few amplifying remarks, and some illustrative photos.

Tuesday, January 19, 3:55 p.m.:

Note to DC friends: How many times does the Big Storm that’s predicted on Tuesday become Friday’s “scattered snow flurries”? Almost always. It’s the ones that sneak up on us that turn out to be actual blizzards.

The storm ended up being very actual. And it had a name: Winter Storm Jonas. What happened to WS Arn, WS Bernice, WS Chuckie, and so on? Never heard about them. Since when has the NWS been naming winter storms at all? The media has done so for some time. This one became Snowzilla, since we had already had Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, and other such vapors of the idle brains of those whose job it is to make every news event breathlessly urgent, intensely melodramatic, and vaguely unsettling.


Our house during the blizzard.

Thursday, January 21, 9:22 a.m.:

“Blizzard” Update: After three days of describing the upcoming Friday-Saturday snowstorm as “historic” and “significant,” with snowfall totals well over one foot, the meteorologists this morning are taking the first steps to back away: “new models indicate that snowfall amounts may be less in some areas.” We’ll keep up with the changes over the next 36 hours. MEANWHILE, a “clipper” system that dropped one freakin’ inch of snow on cold, untreated roads during last night’s rush hour and was NOT IDENTIFIED AS SIGNIFICANT BY ANY METEOROLOGIST created pure havoc (7 hour commutes for some!) both last night and this morning. Area schools are closed for the day! Well, as I heard one radio forecaster say yesterday, “the details are in the devil.” ONLY in D.C.!!

I heard that forecaster on my way home from the grocery run. People had all week to stock up, and we were pretty well set. But we were a couple of ingredients short of a good recipe. At the Giant, people had carts full of stuff. Do people only have enough toilet paper on hand for a couple of days most of the time? Do they plan on subsisting on bread pudding during every storm? Why aren’t they buying fruit and vegetables and meat?

Friday, January 22, 2:29 p.m.:


“The frolic architecture of the snow.”

Enjoy this poem today, before you lose power. I wonder if Emerson ever lost power. Oh, wait, . . . [I posted a link to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “The Snow-Storm,” which ends with the wonderful line “The frolic architecture of the snow.”]

Friday, January 22, 11:25 p.m.:


Cats during the storm, wondering as usual where their next meal is coming from.

Blizzard Watch: It is 11:21 p.m. We still have power. In fact there has been little wind and just moderate snow, but no “blizzard” conditions yet. So we were able to have a warm meal prepared by conventional means. There are about 6″ on the ground now. Incredibly, they are predicting that about 18″ will be on the ground by 10 A.M. That would seem incredible, but I remember a very similar storm in about 1978. And so to bed. I will post something by about 8 A.M. if we have power.

Saturday, January 23, 8:12 a.m.:

Blizzard Watch: Woke up to about 15″ of snow on the ground. AND to !!ELECTRICITY!! Supposed to be windy all day, but the snow is dry and the limbs not burdened, so there’s hope. Conditions not quite whiteout, but we are being advised to expect another 10″ to a foot. So this storm is the real deal, and is very much as forecast.

After the storm the total accumulation at National Airport was deemed suspiciously low. In a city highly attuned to fraud and deception, everything is questioned. In this case, the official airport reading put the storm into fourth place all-time. But wait! Turns out they did not do the readings correctly, and had not been doing so for some time past either. It seems that an official snowfall reading requires a “snow board.” (I just assumed that must be a CIA torture for Alaskan natives.) You place the snow board in the measuring area, let a few inches accumulate, measure them, clean the board off, let a few more inches accumulate, measure, clear, and repeat at regular intervals. This method counters the snow’s natural tendency to compress over time from the weight of new snow falling on top of it. By virtue of the NWS’s faulty procedure, Winter Storm Jonas was prevented from claiming its rightful place as the third worst storm ever. Every centimeter counts, as the phantom seven-time Tour de France winner might say.

Saturday, January 23, 3:22 p.m.:


Our house after the storm.

Blizzard Update: 3:00 Saturday and we still have power. About 6 to 8 hours left of snow and wind, apparently. This is a storm with a real kick in its tail. The center of the low pressure area is just about due east of us, it appears. But the huge mass of snow streaming downward on the west side of that low seems endless. For a while around noon we thought it was letting up, but as the wind is slowly backing around to northwest its velocity is increasing and the bands of precipitation are deepening, so that it’s now a real full-scale “whiteout” blizzard here. We each have ventured out, to shovel a path to the street, clear the front stoop, and clear the heat pump. Wouldn’t go out right now unless I absolutely had to. Truly, “it ain’t a fit night out for man or beast.” [I posted a link to a short YouTube video excerpt of W. C. Fields performing in Mack Sennett’s 1933 film short The Fatal Glass of Beer, a send-up of the genre of pioneer melodramas set in the Yukon in gold prospecting days.]

Sunday, January 24, 9:52 a.m.:

Jane shoveling

Jane shoveling amid the drifts and piles of snow.

Blizzard update: Sunday morning. Sun’s out. 23″ on the ground here. Never have I seen a storm quite like this. No church, just shoveling. Photos to follow.

And that was our storm. My note of anxiety about losing power is obvious; the forecasters did overestimate that risk, because the snow was drier and the winds less intense than they foresaw. I forgive them; being without power in sub-freezing weather is something I desire to avoid. Finally, there is special pleasure in the fact that an 83-year-old film comedy can still provide a rich belly laugh in our world of glossy, HD entertainment. Life passes; weather is eternal.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016

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