Monthly Archive for February, 2005

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Washington DC, The Nation’s Weather Wimp

I meant to write this yesterday.

Washington, The Nation’s Weather Wimp

By Steven Pearlstein

Hardly a flake had fallen yesterday morning before every school in the Washington region was closed. Thousands of parents were forced to skip a day of work. Business meetings were postponed, events canceled, trains delayed and government workers sent home early. All day long, TV news crews whipped up fears about “treacherous driving” even as the scenes behind them showed traffic moving smoothly on snowless roads.

Can someone explain to me why the capital of the richest and most powerful country in the world needs to be shut down by the mere threat of an eight-inch snowstorm? Are people in Buffalo or Providence so much smarter or tougher that a routine event that barely causes them to miss a step brings Washington to its knees?

I spent the day yesterday listening as officials from all the major jurisdictions described why they had absolutely no choice but to close the schools. The narrow country roads. The little 5-year-olds forced to walk on unshoveled sidewalks. The poor teachers who have to commute in from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The buses so tightly scheduled that any weather delays wreak havoc.

As you probably figured out already, I’m a New Englander driven nuts by Washington’s weather wimpiness. And during my 17 years here, it’s only gotten worse. That, despite the fact that most new cars now have front-wheel drive while the number of SUVs and other four-wheel-drive vehicles has exploded. And despite the fact that resources and technology devoted to snow removal have only improved. Thanks to GPS devices, for example, the regional director of the Virginia Department of Transportation can sit at his desk and call up a map that shows the location of every truck in his fleet and the last time a plow or sander went down every street in his domain.

What we are witnessing, I believe, is a self-reinforcing cycle of falling expectations and herd mentality. Because of increased coordination among officials in all local jurisdictions — normally a good thing — closings in one community now subtly encourage closings everywhere else. And with each new round of closings, people feel less urgency about the need to clear streets and sidewalks, or learn how to drive in snow, or develop the tricks necessary for maintaining their daily routines. This degradation in skills, in turn, demands more closings.

The essential lesson of welfare reform, of school reform, of corporate reengineering is that if you set expectations high and give people the necessary tools, they will rise to the challenge. Consistent with the Bush administration philosophy, that insight should guide a new strategy of preemption when it comes to snow.

Public works directors need to understand they’ll be out of a job if they can’t keep major roads open and safe during run-of-the-mill storms, as most of them do already.

And employers — including schools — need to impress upon employees the need to have a contingency plan for getting to work when it snows, even if it means arranging special car pools or taking public transportation or, if all else fails, trading in the Toyota for a used Subaru.

Is it too much to ask people who choose to live in rural places to walk or drive their kids to bus pickup points, or arrange car pools, on days when snow makes country roads unsafe? Inconvenient? Sure. But not as much as having kids at home all day.

And why not invite local high-tech companies to develop simulators and computer games so people (and bus drivers!) can practice driving in snow?

Maybe, in the end, there will still be 15 percent of students or teachers or employees who still can’t get where they need to go. But isn’t that better than closing things unnecessarily for the other 85 percent?

Despite what you hear from the snow defeatists, this isn’t a matter of safety, it’s a matter of preparedness, ingenuity and will. In a regional economy that produces a billion dollars worth of goods and services each workday, cutting and running at the first snowflake results in a significant loss of productivity and output. Worse, it teaches our kids to be wimps.

Steven Pearlstein will definitely be at work today. He can be reached at pearlsteins@washpost.com.

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Operating Status in the Washington DC Area

Operating Status in the Washington, DC, Area

Posted on February 24, 2005 at 1:16 PM

the following message applies only to Thursday, February 24, 2005

“Federal agencies in the Washington, DC, area are operating under an EARLY DISMISSAL policy.” Employees should be dismissed by their agencies 2 hours earlier than their normal departure time.

The people in this area are a bunch of pussies. Most notably, the people at OPM. It amazes me. We closed early yesterday because of a few flakes and word there might be up to *gasp* 6 inches of snow. Stop the press! It’s like we’re not used to getting snow here. What, we’re living in Georgia. Jesus Christ.

What really irks me is that the schools in MD and VA close at the drop of a hat. And it’s costing the residents their more money. There is a prediction for snow in a few days, so they close the schools at that point. It’s amazing. Luckily, DC only had a 2 hour delay. Which still was only half absurd.

I can’t remember it being that crazy when I was a kid. Sure we’d get 1-2 hour delays when it was snowing in the morning. And yes, I lived in the suburbs. But getting a full day off for 3 inches of snow. No way. We’d have to get at least 12″ of snow. And back then this area actually got significant snow. Not a couple inches and then the city shuts down.

But what do I care. I got off early yesterday and the roads were empty this morning when Emily drove me to work. Hip hip horray!

PS. Did you like my first use of a Government acronym here? I am assimilating nicely. Scary.

And bummer about Y100. First WZTA. Then that west coast station. Then WHFS. Now this. All the legendary radio stations are dying. Poor alt rock. Poor Joey. Not sure what’s happening. But the formats are changing. Dylan was right.

I’m not as cool as the rest of you

Ten Things I Have Done That You Probably Haven’t

  1. Lip synced and danced to Mony Mony by Billy Idol in grade school.
  2. Built a theremin from parts bought at Radio Shack.
  3. Was raised Jewish.
  4. Got to shoot (photography-wise) 3 of my favorite bands before they broke up or died.
  5. Sans a few years in high school I totally get along with my parents.
  6. I had a CAT Scan and an EEG when I was a kid.
  7. Tried to find the Dischord House with friends in college.
  8. I’ve been to the majority of the Smithsonian Museums minus the Postal Museum and the American Indian Museum.
  9. I almost studied Music Therapy in college.
  10. Made my first home video at age 27.