When snow blows, Washington, D.C., cannot seem to cope

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 21, 2016 5:41 PM

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As they stocked up on groceries, batteries and booze ahead of the first major snowstorm to hit the U.S. East Coast this year, residents of the nation's capital also shared in a time-honored ritual - complaining about how poorly Washington manages winter.

Residents of the city and its suburbs had good reason to be worried. An inch (2.5 cm) of snow on Wednesday brought the evening rush hour in the metropolitan area of more than 4 million people to a halt. Some commuters complained that drives that normally took 10 minutes stretched into three-hour odysseys.

"The motto seems to be: 'We're no worse than anybody else,' Patricia DeWolf, a 63-year-old retiree, said outside a Safeway supermarket after buying food and other supplies. "This is the national capital, this is a world-class city. It should act like it."

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser apologized for the traffic snarls and vowed to be ready for the blizzard that is forecast to begin on Friday night and drop up to 2 feet (60 cm) of snow.

"We should have been out with more resources," she told reporters about the problems on Wednesday, adding that officials were now "very focused on the blizzard that is focused on Washington, D.C."

Government and public services were already going into shutdown mode. The Metro regional transit service, which runs the second-busiest U.S subway system, said it would be suspending service from Friday night through Sunday.

Public school systems in the District of Columbia and the Virginia and Maryland suburbs will be closed on Friday. The U.S. House of Representatives canceled its votes on Monday and the Senate will not be in session.

The Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the federal workforce, has not decided whether the region's almost 400,000 government workers will go to work on Friday.

Washington has a long history of being overwhelmed by winter weather, with blizzards such as 2010's "Snowmageddon" shutting down the city for days.

But officials have also faced criticism for being perceived as overreacting to advancing storms, such as in March 2013, when the region's government workers were told to stay home because of an impending storm.

The storm was a no-show, with only a soupy slush covering roadways.

Washington's weather wimpdom may just be an indicator of its infrastructure problems. A study by Texas A&M University in August said the area had the worst traffic congestion in the country.

In the face of the impending storm, Washingtonians were preparing for the worst.

At another Safeway store, near the U.S. Capitol, store manager Robin Lee said: “We got people down the aisles. It is crazy in here right now.”

(Additional reporting by Tom Ramstack and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)