A Little Snow in Washington

Below is from the Smithsonian Metro stop looking east toward the Capitol, which is hidden by the fog and snow.

t doesn’t take much snow to paralyze our nation’s capital.  Even this little bit you see on the Capitol Mall was enough to shutter the local schools. It has been a cold winter (by Washington standards) but this is the first snow that has stuck to the ground.  The biggest snow storms come usually in February & March.  The sun is warm and the snow doesn’t last long, but they tie up traffic in this city of southern efficiency and northern charm.

When I was a kid they almost never closed the schools.   We had to walk miles through mountains of snow – up hill both ways.   When you reach your anecdotage, the hardships of the past are magnified in relation to the wimpiness of the present.    It has always been thus.  My father told me tales too.   Of course, things actually were hard for him in the Great Depression followed by WWII.  Those who compare our easy times to those years have a not studied the history and/or did not have a parent to tell them about it.

Below is the view from the Smithsonian Metro looking west toward the Washington Monument.

But we had hard times in the 1960s & 70s too.  This was mostly related to having to listen to the hard times stories of our elders, but decade from 1973-82 really was bad.  What we fear MIGHT happen now DID happen then, with double digit unemployment and double digit inflation. 1979/80 was the worst time of my life so far.  Not only did we suffer the economic malaise, but the environment was much dirtier than it is today.  The Ayatollah had grabbed the hostages; the Soviet Union was expanding all over the world; Central America looked like it would go communist; the debt crisis was crushing the developing world; interest rates were high and gas prices were higher. There was no way out.

My father told me that the 1930s were much worse, but I didn’t live through those worse hard times, so I feared the contemporary fall was forever. Ten years later, the Berlin Wall fell; the economy was expanding; gas was cheap and interest rates were coming down.  The boom that started in 1982 would continue with two minor shocks (1991 & 2001) until 2007.  Nobody would have believed that back in 1979.   There was a whole industry of doom and gloom books, predicting the imminent replacement of the U.S. by Japan, the collapse of the free market & the triumph of the Soviet Union.  Hard to remember now and you cannot find many people who will admit to believing those things, but they did and the experts were wrong.

America is never really down.  We are just resting before going on to our next success. 

But returning to the snow, it was indeed colder during the 1970s.   Earth has cycles.  The 1930s were warm years.  It returned to “normal” in the 1940s, so that the Battle of the Bugle occurred during the coldest winter in 15 years.   The 1950s were a bit warmer again, and then we had a cold decade from the middle 1960s until the middle 1970s.  That is the weather I remember as a kid. 

They didn’t close school unless there were a few feet of newly fallen snow.  Conditions have changed, however.   Most of us went to neighborhood schools and we walked to get there.   You might slip and fall walking to school, but a fatal accident is unlikely.  Today most kids are bussed to school.  It is dangerous to ride in a bus on icy roads.  That is the weak link and that is why they have to close schools more often today for smaller accumulation of snow and ice, that and the liability exposure.  Our culture has changed and so has our adaptation to the weather.  I was not at tough as my old man and my kids cannot be as tough as I was.   We won’t let them.