Don’t need a weatherman

Suw and I are in Washington DC mainly so that I can get my UK visa for the next year, and for me, it’s also a chance to see old friends. I was based in Washington for six and a half years from the Clinton impeachment through to George Bush’s second inauguration last year.

We landed last Thursday evening to warnings of impending doom. A snowstorm was on its way, more precisely a nor’easter. For those of you not steeped in American meteorological lore, a nor’easter is when a storm comes up the east coast of the US. In layman’s terms, the warmer, wetter air from down south slams into the cold air up the coast and voile, lots and lots of snow.

The last really big one happened in Washington on President’s Day weekend of 2003. It dumped a couple of feet of snow on Washington. My car was buried for a week behind a four-foot wall of snow left by the plows.

Weather weenies

Washington really can’t cope with snow, well, that’s putting it mildly. The town freaks out with even the mere rumour of a threat of inclement weather. I just don’t get it. It’s not like the city doesn’t have wintry weather.

And Washington really doesn’t know how good it’s got it. I grew up west of Chicago, and I have childhood memories of the Blizzard of ’79 when something like four or five feet of snow got dumped on us. My father, who is six feet even, had to go up on the roof in the middle of the storm to shovel off the chest-deep snow to keep it from collapsing.

Unfortunately, he dumped a good chunk of it right by the front door. I was about the only one small enough to squeeze into the front door until sometime in April.

Talking about the weather

Sorry for prattling on about weather. It probably has something to do with my storm chasing days as a cub reporter in western Kansas. Well, that in the fact that talking about the weather was one of the icebreakers I used when interviewing laconic Kansans who viewed me with deep suspicion. As they said, often: “You’re not from around here are ya?”

But weather is a real obsession for people. I almost enrolled my father in a 12-step programme for addiction to the Weather Channel. He had this habit of beginning every phone conversation by telling me the temperature of where I happened to be at that time, whether that was London or Washington. It was useful when planning what to wear for the day, but slightly freaky that my father knew my local forecast better than I did.

Here in Washington, local TV stations had their network of local weather watchers who sent in pictures of how deep the snow was in their back yards. I wonder why newspapers haven’t picked up on this or created spaces for their communities to talk about weather.

Sure, when I go into a weather site I want to know weather, quickly. But I wonder why news and weather sites don’t create more tools, more spaces to bank on this natural talking point.

Oh well, Suw and I survived the Blizzard of ’06. In Washington, it managed to coat the city in a beautiful blanket without really causing that much disruption. Plenty of Flickr pics to follow.