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Posted at 10:23 AM ET, 01/31/2011

Commutageddon: could we all have done more?

By Jason Samenow

As we look back at last Wednesday's catastrophic commute, the question arises- could better forecast information and communication helped avert the horrific "commutageddon" (the storm name winner) scenario that unfolded?

As readers of this blog know, we started sounding the alarm Monday night ("Pretty much all guidance from tonight suggests a pretty good dump of snow across the area late Wednesday into Wednesday night"), warned about trees limb damage and power outage threat Tuesday ("By evening, the storm has the potential to become significant and hazardous with wet snow that could lead to trees limbs coming down and power outages if the storm lives up to its potential.") and honked pretty loudly Wednesday morning in two consecutive posts on the threat.

Mid-morning I wrote:

If you need to get out and about to run any errands, the next several hours - through around 2 p.m. - would be a good time. ... a major, potentially remarkable thump of snow is coming later today. . . . Not to sound alarming, but all be aware that the snowfall rates around this evening's commute may be extreme and make travel very hazardous and potentially crippling. Thundersnow is possible with rates in excess of 1 to 2 inches per hour

Late morning I re-iterated:

I ... would not advise being on the roads after 4 p.m. You may risk getting caught in horrendous backups and/or getting stuck somewhere.

But obviously the word didn't get out to everyone. Some have questioned if the National Weather Service - whose mission is to protect life and property - adequately did its job. Others have pointed fingers at confusing and inconsistent forecasts in the broadcast media. I'll offer a few comments on how I think they did...

I think the NWS handled the storm pretty well overall. Yes, you could argue they erred by delaying winter storm warnings until Wednesday morning when you could've made a case for them late Tuesday night. I also thought their decision to initially only issue a winter weather advisory for the District (and close-in suburbs) Wednesday morning was suspect (before they upgraded it to a warning). But, to their credit, they issued the critical special weather statement Wednesday morning warning about "dangerous" travel during rush hour and their information informed OPM's decision to dismiss Federal workers two hours early.

The effectiveness of broadcast media's communication during the storm was uneven based on accounts I read. Because I was covering the storm, I wasn't able to catch a lot of the TV coverage so I can't address specific forecasts made by specific forecasters.

But, to make a comment, I did hear reports of TV forecasters "downplaying" the event on Tuesday. I think forecasters need to be judicious in when they choose to downplay and when they choose to hype. Given the energy and precipitation rates associated with the storm (that was clearly evident in every single computer model), it was NOT one to downplay - especially given the rush hour timing.

I think some forecasters downplayed the event because they thought temperatures would be too warm and probably also because they were gun shy after previous snow threats fizzled. But it's important for forecasters to recognize when a storm has potential to become severely disruptive and be clear in communicating the range of possibilities -even if they're skeptical the worst will materialize.

So the television media probably could've done a better job at communicating the risk and perhaps the National Weather Service could have honked the horn a little earlier (and that may have influenced the TV forecasters to sound the alarm louder).

But despite these lapses, the information about the urgency of the situation was out there by late morning Wednesday and many did either didn't get the memo or didn't act upon it. So what more could've been done to get people off the roads sooner?

It's a difficult question, mainly because different people have different access to information, and varying trust in/understanding of weather forecasts. And some will refuse to act in spite of dire warnings.

But I think the lesson learned is that we all need to do a better job disseminating and communicating information during weather emergencies or emergencies of any type. We have to blast the message out on across all media and all platforms. And it's no longer just the responsibility of forecasters, the media, the government and emergency managers, but all of us via social media and our own personal networks.

There are more opportunities to spread the word than ever, and we all share the responsibility of communicating during hazardous situations. Capital Weather Gang readers and forecasters are weather savvy, so we bear a heightened responsibility in communicating with people we know to raise their awareness and understanding.

From all accounts, I think many Capital Weather readers did an outstanding job spreading the word about Wednesday's situation. We had hundreds of readers recommending our content on Facebook and retweeting our Twitter messages. Not to mention, many people commented that they passed on information to family, friends, and officemates.

But it wasn't enough. So we all need to get better at it in every corner of our society. The good news is that technology is offering us all more and more opportunities to do so.

By Jason Samenow  | January 31, 2011; 10:23 AM ET
Categories:  Latest, Recaps, Winter Storms  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: Light wintry mix tonight
Next: Breaking down the double ice threat

Comments

Folks- following Commutageddon, we received an outpouring of positive comments about our coverage. I'd like to thank everyone for all of the nice words. The entire CWG worked hard to provide good info. And I'd like to thank CWG readers for contributing throughout the event (via blog comments, Facebook, and Twitter), communicating the message, and keeping friends, family and colleagues safe. My post above says the whole DC community can get better at communicating-- but that should not diminish all of the good that was done.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | January 31, 2011 10:44 AM | Report abuse

In case you're awaiting storm coverage re: tonight, tomorrow, and Wed, it's coming midday...

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | January 31, 2011 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I think the worst downplaying was done by WTOP/Channel 9. I remember listening to them right after reading how all of the models had come out and said significant snow fall, and Doug HIll was still saying that their own model only showed an inch of snow so they still categorized the storm as going to be mostly rain, instead of snow like it was categorized here.

Posted by: tangleword | January 31, 2011 10:46 AM | Report abuse

IMO, CWG did a GREAT job with the forecast - what materialized was exactly what I expected, thanks to your posts. However, the federal govt should have closed at 2pm or even noon, not two hours early. Maybe we should suggest OPM get a WP online subscription? In any event, hopefully lesson is learned.....

Posted by: SSpring1021 | January 31, 2011 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Two thoughts: on my Tuesday evening commute, I listened to Doug Hill on WTOP saying there would be "no problem" in the AM commute, but the PM commute "could" be a different story. That was after he finally upped his snowfall estimates (from what I read here). He should have said "plan to work 1/2 day or stay home tomorrow". It was obvious if the storm stayed on track there would be 2 inches an hour. By Wed AM it was obviously on track. Second, anyone with an overpowered Beemer RWD with summer tires caught out with snow on the road needs to be fined $50 and given a public noogie.

Posted by: eric654 | January 31, 2011 10:51 AM | Report abuse

At this point it seems the WP only dabbles in social media. And their mobile app is pretty useless in terms of alerting people to serious events.

You could put a button at the top of blog posts that are reporting dangerous weather in our area. Clicking the button could allow you to broadcast an abbreviated weather alert on social media outlet or send a mass email. Oh... and make that mobile friendly (I shouldn't have to say that)

I see all the usual suspects linked at the bottom, which is fine for most posts. But when the events get more news worthy, maybe that element should become more prominent.
"Alert your network" - and the actions could be more proactive.

Also, maybe something like foursquare or Facebook places could be used to deliver weather alerts based on locations.

Lastly, the woefully horrible Washington Post app should be updated to allow pushed updates in case of weather or other serious news events that could effect personal safety. (gps locations could be used for this as well) Being able to use the app to link to social media would probably make too much sense.

Need a developer?

Posted by: gconrads | January 31, 2011 10:56 AM | Report abuse

I've been faithfully following the CWG's predictions... and I've been telling everyone I know to do the same (in person and via social networking). If only my HR Dept had been in the loop.

Posted by: tam_w | January 31, 2011 10:56 AM | Report abuse

@tangleword - So which was it; Doug Hill or Channel 9? Doug Hill is on Channel 7 and has been for a number of years now.

Posted by: joemdavis55 | January 31, 2011 10:57 AM | Report abuse

eric,
"..a public noogie." wow...them's fightin' words. i didn't know we still gave those out!

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | January 31, 2011 11:00 AM | Report abuse

@gconrads

You're right. There's a lot we could do to improve our reach across platforms - especially mobile. We're working on it.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | January 31, 2011 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I think your coverage was excellent, but I would love for you to do a piece on why OPM only has 4 potential statuses - open, closed, delayed 2 hours, or leave 2 hours early. They need to realize the weather can't be put in a box like that.

Also, what about their decision to send people to work the next morning with abandoned vehicles strewn all over the road? Thee's a major piece in all of this that hasn't quite gotten the attention it deserves, I think.

Posted by: dvdmon | January 31, 2011 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Saved my butt last Wed. I would have stayed until 5:00.
And why would so many people stay at the office despite weather warnings blaring all around?
For myself there was intense management pressure to stay "for the team"....yes some of us have to regularly choose between getting marked down on our annual performanace eval ("reliability" and/or "attendance") & personal safety during hazardous weather conditions.
Compassion is notably lacking in many members of management & I don't think that CWG can do much about it.

Thanks again for that forecast which got me home before all traffic locked up.

Posted by: FIREDRAGON47 | January 31, 2011 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I listened to you guys - got on the road at 1:30PM and made it home in my usual time. So glad I didn't wait.

Posted by: nolagirl67 | January 31, 2011 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Great job CWG... Jason, maybe the first update could've done without the words: "Not to sound alarming, but"

Posted by: spgass1 | January 31, 2011 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Sorry I wasn't able to weigh in sooner (power outage with branch blocking driveway, followed by stomach bug!)

Simply put, CWG's coverage and prediction of Wednesday's storm was nothing short of outstanding. Had people listened to the forecast, they wouldn't have been on the roads at 4 pm -- to the extent their jobs would allow, they would have been home by early afternoon (or even better, telecommuted).

Even so, an 11-hour commute? Four days without power? For a six-hour snow event? Scares me to think what happens in a non-snow emergency requiring a city evacuation.

Jamie Y (aka Weather Checker)

Posted by: JamieYPotomac | January 31, 2011 11:24 AM | Report abuse

After OPM made their early close announcement, I reiterated the information that CWG provided to those with some control making weather-closure decisions at my workplace. The individual in question laughed at me and walked away. Ultimately, we closed at 3pm (which was announced to the community at 2:15pm--a little late if you ask me). IMO, the inability for people to acknowledge the ripple effects of weather and the subtleties of forecasting seems a very important issue for the weather community, but an extremely difficult one to tackle (I currently have no answers). Also, I was struck with the thought of why these closure decisions are so standardized--2 hour delay, 2 hour early close, or closed completely. In this area especially, some commutes can take 2 hours on a good day. It strikes me that these decisions should be tailored to the specific weather threat and there should be some faith in people to do their work AND make personal decisions regarding their safety.

Posted by: amandap2986 | January 31, 2011 11:25 AM | Report abuse

You did great, accurate and timely, just like last winter.

I left the office at 3pm, headed west, and made it home in average time just as the really heavy stuff started pouring down.

Colleagues who left at 3:45?

Commutageddon.

Posted by: ryansholin | January 31, 2011 11:26 AM | Report abuse

i don't think it was an issue with the forecasts. the issue was with companies refusing to let their employees go early despite OPM's status and all the warnings. i know my company (who I would LOVE to broadcast here, but i wont), goes by OPM, but ONLY if they are closed. everything else means "normal hours". and based off the traffic in tyson's, it's fair to say most employers ignored all warnings as well. they were more concerned with money than safety. i even emailed my HR rep at 2pm and said I do not have a car that can handle the snow, i need to leave now and work from home. i was told no. sure enough, i got stuck in the snow on Rt. 7 at 6pm and had to push my car into a parking lot. then book a $200 hotel room. and guess what? they won't be reimbursing it. the truth is, by noon Wednesday, it was clear the storm was going to be hitting hard at rush hour, and yet much companies kept their employees at the office.

Posted by: bryangirkins | January 31, 2011 11:26 AM | Report abuse

First, CWG, I think you did an excellent job of warning us about what was coming. Unfortunately, there are folks out there who don't believe weather reports, no matter who is doing the reporting. My husband is a good example of this. I contacted him shortly after your reports regarding the severity of the situation to let him know that he should plan to leave early and be home by 4:00. He believes that all weather outlets "sensationalize" the reports of snow, ice, etc. for ratings and marketing purposes, and that the forecast will never be as severe as what is reported. As a result of his judgment call (or lack thereof), he spent 3 & 1/2 hours stuck on the road Wed night instead of the usual 20 minute commute. I am not sure how media outlets can overcome this point of view and communicate info regarding dangerous conditions to skeptics such as him. I will say, he does have at least a little faith in CWG now!

Posted by: kathyb39 | January 31, 2011 11:26 AM | Report abuse

"So what more could've been done to get people off the roads sooner?"

Getting them /on/ the roads sooner. The government's 2 hour early closing meant that all the govvies got dumped on the roads starting at 3PM. Just as the rain turned to sleet and snow. Getting them on the roads at noon would've been much better.

Since I read CWG I knew to leave work (in Chantilly) before 3 and was home in Falls Church by 4. I figure I was 10 minutes ahead of the jam the whole way.

Posted by: wiredog | January 31, 2011 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Well, it's really pretty simple. What I've always told people is when the word 'thundersnow' is mentioned in a weather forecast, you'd better beat it home, or else. Coworkers of mine who spent Wednesday night at the office rather than try the roads all told me Thursday morning they didn't think the storm would be that bad. I just shook my head.

Posted by: mbcnewspaper | January 31, 2011 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I can confirm that Doug Hill was saying WTOP as late at 630am on Wed that his models were only giving an inch of snow...He was one of the biggest reasons, IMO, that folks didnt be the Boss of Themselves. Doug is trusted around here and he screwed up on this one. And there is no doubt that OPM needs to have more flexibility in its status. Weather doesnt work in those increments. 2 solutions that I have heard are the "Zone" dismissals where employees leave at a certain time based on their final destination - ie Loudoun/Frederick folks leave earlier than FX and MoCo and so on. The best solution would simply be to have a required "Unscheduled Telecommute Day" when ANY winter weather is progged for the area. Literally, any winter weather. That would help folks make their decision in the AM better and the work still gets done regardless of if the forecast verifies or busts. No harm, no foul, no blood.

Posted by: DullesARC | January 31, 2011 11:29 AM | Report abuse

CWG coverage was excellent, as usual. I feel NWS and OPM could have done a lot better with their response, but I also feel that people in general either put too much or not enough into whatever they say.

Sometimes you have to go with your gut feeling. A lot of CWG readers were asking, "What should I do?" even though CWG had clearly outlined it for all of us. Yes, OPM only gave two hours, but those of you in federal government have a leave bank. It sucks to use it for a weather event but it's your safety and your family you have to worry about. I don't understand why some people were like, "I can't leave." Are you chained to your desk?

I followed CWG's advice from the first day they began coverage of the event. I front loaded all my hours and came to work at 2AM the day of. It sucked, and maybe some people don't have that kind of flexibility in their job but I wasn't sitting in my car for 10 hours to make a three mile drive. I was home with a glass of wine and a frozen pizza, in my snuggie.

OPM, NWS, the local media, even CWG cannot wave a magic wand to make things all better. If we all just applied a bit of common sense this would not have been such a cluster for the area.

Posted by: WorfsBabyMama | January 31, 2011 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I do have sympathy for those affected. Our weather problems are hurricanes with too much rain, fallen trees, power outages, et c.

But, have the liberals brought us to such a state of needing Nanny? North Dakota recently dealt with their terrific and awful bad weather without all this fuss.

Posted by: peopleofearthattention | January 31, 2011 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, the problem with weather forcasting is that, regardless of the computer-modeling and smart, trained professionals working the data, it's still a crap shoot.

Everyone already has been burned with dire warnings that didn't pan out.

Posted by: bmschumacher | January 31, 2011 11:31 AM | Report abuse

And the very best rule of thumb (because OPM isnt changing any policies any time soon) is to take that dismissal time when they close early and subtract ONE hour. Then leave, get home, turn on your laptop, log into VPN and finish your work day, because you may be the only one in your office getting anything done. In your pajamas.

Posted by: DullesARC | January 31, 2011 11:31 AM | Report abuse

CWG was spot on with their forecast and the information was available at the right moment. I took two hours of Annual Leave and was home before the snow arrived. Needless to say, OPM wont be crediting me with that AL to make up for their mis-timed shutdown but hopefully, they will shut down sooner when the conditions clearly warrant it.

Posted by: iseyij | January 31, 2011 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Just another cheer for CWG. Last Wed, my son's pre-school announced it was closing at 4pm and that kids could be picked up then. Normally, I might have milked those last few hours of work. But, because I'd been reading CWG, specifically what you listed above: "get your errands done before 2pm," I decided to just grab my son at noon so I would not have to battle snow and traffic to get him at 4pm. Thanks very much, you saved me a major headache and allowed me to have my kids home and safe in plenty of time. Luckily, I work from home and for myself, so I didn't have to rely on a boss who doesn't read CWG! Thanks!

Posted by: emyrick4 | January 31, 2011 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Like most persistent problems on a large scale (hunger, poverty, etc.), human nature is our culprit here. As a couple people here have commented, there is significant pressure in many organizations to tough it out for the team. (This is also why so many people go to work sick when they shouldn't.)

To make matters worse, too many people are arrogant about weather and disrespectful toward forecasters. Just look at how people try to wait out hurricanes.

Lastly, Americans (and especially Washingtonians) are stubbornly workaholic. So, anything that flies against "putting in the hours" is summarily disregarded.

Posted by: Andrew53 | January 31, 2011 11:38 AM | Report abuse

In many stories, blame is put on the workers "for not heeding the warnings" and leaving work earlier than they did. I think that blame is misplaced. Forecasts mainly stated that the storm* would begin around 4pm. (It seems to have started a few minutes before then.) Federal workers were allowed to go home 2 hours early. For most workers this meant 3:30pm. The problem is everyone did leave work at that time. There was only a very brief transition time between the storm starting as mild rain/sleet/flurries and it becoming a raging behemoth.

In hindsight, workers should've been allowed to leave 2 hours before the storm was projected to hit, not 2 hours before their usual quitting time. I understand OPM can't do this regularly due to the general bureaucruacy and many misforecasts.

In any event, the catastrophe wasn't caused by workers failing to heed the warnings.

The word "storm" wasn't generally used in the forecasts; mainly the more innocuous "wintry mix" or precipitation was used.

Posted by: ShovelPlease | January 31, 2011 11:43 AM | Report abuse

@eric654

Beemer = BMW motorcyle
Bimmer = BMW car :)

Agreed though...I was really surprised at the number of non-SUV or non-AWD cars spinning their wheels hopelessly.

Posted by: kwojciec | January 31, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Hey,
I think you guys do a great thing. My wife is 7.5 months pregnant. We live near Leesburg and she commutes via bus to DC. Based purely on CWG I told her to telework last Wed and she did. Getting her home would have been an unreal experience.
Thanks Tons.
and... because of CWG I usually win the teacher pool on what will happen with school systems during weather. Nice baked goods winning perk.

Posted by: mandarb77 | January 31, 2011 11:51 AM | Report abuse

It is certainly true that the community at large, especially the NWS and TV outlets, could (should) have done better. But, no outlet of any sort did any better than CWG. Moreover, except for inadequate apps for smart phones, etc., CWG has set the standard of just how modern weather prediction ought to be done. Especially relevant is the capability to continuously weigh all available data and forecast models in near real time and the ability to convey the forecasts along with the unavoidable uncertainties in a scientifically sound and reader friendly manner.

As many have commented, the key issue as to impact is how the public and officials respond to the forecasts in making decisions in the face of likely risks. That's an area which needs special attention, but is the primary responsibility of the decision makers and social scientists, not weather forecasters.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, this is not just my opinion, but rather one that includes statements made publicly and offline at last week’s AMS Annual meeting by well known and respected meteorologists and experts in communication. I’m writing a paper on all of this and will post an abbreviated version for CWG in the near future.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | January 31, 2011 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Great comments everyone. Has anyone read the new OPM Closure / Dismissal Policy (please visit: http://www.opm.gov/oca/compmemo/dismissal.pdf)? Pages 10-12 explain early dismissal policy. There are no fixed hours of early release, generally it's 2 hours, but it could be more (see the example given in the policy). In any case, workers can leave earlier, with their supervisor's permission and if department/agency policy permits. Employees can take unscheduled leave from the time the announcement is made until it takes effect. Or, if a telework agreement (between them and their boss) exists, can make up the difference when they get home.

Have a safe commute tomorrow and Wednesday. Be well.

Posted by: BlueThunder613 | January 31, 2011 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Yes, some of the local TV meteorologists botched this one, but for the most part the warnings were out there for the folks that were paying attention. And despite how difficult the storm was to call (many variables, temperatures right on the freezing mark), both CWG and NWS were warning very early on Wednesday that there would be an extremely dangerous afternoon rush hour. And that was right on target.

The bigger problem is that people still (often to their own peril) would rather believe their own eyes than some nerd behind a computer desk or a suit in front of a green screen. When it was 3PM and there was a mere misting of rain around the region, skeptical and less informed folks everywhere in the DC metro were certainly giggling and mocking the calls for a major storm. So they weren't leaving no matter how loud the alarms were or how early the warnings were -- they chose to believe their own eyes instead and could not understand how just 90 minutes later there could be a catastrophic situation.

This storm is the perfect example for why we need weather forecasting. It was a storm hitting at the time of most dense travel that hit suddenly and was not obvious to the casual window-watching public. You needed to have faith in the computers and the experts on this one or else you (or the employees that you are responsible for) got stuck in 8 hour traffic. It's that simple.

Some of that skepticism is rooted in folks being burnt over past false alarms. But Commutageddon was an example of the flipside of that risk equation, and an example of why we should be grateful to those who watch the weather for us and serve the public safety interest.

We can do better at all levels (forecasters, media, government) in alerting the public, but employers and employees also have to be willing to trust those alerts even when their eyes might tell a different story.

Posted by: vvf2 | January 31, 2011 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Strange timing. My agency just sent an email explaining the decisions made during last week's weather event.

Delete.

Posted by: WorfsBabyMama | January 31, 2011 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Sorry: Here's the correct link to the OPM policy.
http://www.opm.gov/oca/compmemo/dismissal.pdf

Posted by: BlueThunder613 | January 31, 2011 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Is there a "Like" button to this post? :)

Agreed on raising awareness. Looking forward to the mobile alerts someday.

Posted by: RedCherokee | January 31, 2011 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Sorry: Here's the correct link to the OPM policy.
http://www.opm.gov/oca/compmemo/dismissal.pdf

Posted by: BlueThunder613 | January 31, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

My only suggestion is that once the storm hit there coulda/shoulda been suggestions to people NOT to leave the office yet if they had a choice. By 4 pm it was already gridlock, from what I can tell - not just bad traffic, but impossible, don't-even-think-about-it traffic. There should be a role for government in getting the word out when that happens - that's not CWG's job. Whose job is it to provide timely information not about a weather event, but an extraordinary traffic event?

Posted by: lowrieses | January 31, 2011 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I think the previous commentors who pointed the finger at management and peer pressure are on the mark. Many folks read the forecasts and knew it might be bad but were too scared to risk management ire and use precious leave time to get ahead of the storm.

Personally I was e-mailed that despite the goverment closure normal work hours applied to all of us contrators. Fortunately however our immediate management gave us the informal word that we could leave if we wanted to and eat the leave hours.

Commutageddon is going to happen over and over again unless there is pressure put on private employers in the area to keep their workers home in dangerous weather. Perhaps Federal contracts should be structured as to pay companies to pay their workers "other leave" during OPM declared early dismissals, late arrivals and closures.

IMO unless something is done this dangerous couldron of barebone leave pools, demands to keep billable hours high, crumbling transportation infrastructure and budget cutbacks in snow removal is a tragedy waiting to happen.

Posted by: HokieAnnie | January 31, 2011 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to have to agree with tanglewood. I was irate with WTOP, well after the storm had pretty much become a certainty they were still calling for a rain event. It was ridiculous for them not to even acknowledge it was a possible threat. Most folks are not paying as close attention to the weather as cwg readers and because wtop dismissed the threat, so did most of the listeners. Perhaps the weather forecasters in the area should at least acknowledge dissenting forecast even if they do not agree with the call.

Posted by: miglewis | January 31, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I worked from home that day and around 3:30 I asked my boss if would be ok for me to send my staff home. He responded with "It's only raining right now, so we are ok." He eventually left the office himself, saw what was actually going on and then decided to call and send everyone home at 5:00. They were all stuck on the highways for 7 hours that night.

Posted by: GoTerps98 | January 31, 2011 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I work from home so I can't attest to the horrible commute that I know so many suffered through. However, the stories I have heard about managers not letting their employees leave early just make me ill. Unfortunately it's the culture we live in that makes work take precedence over everything else and until that culture changes I think history will repeat itself.

The best thing those of us can do that follow you guys regularly is spread the word. I follow on fb for the most up to date info since you don't have an app (iPhone PLEASE!). I've gotten you 7 new followers since last storm and have passed your blog on to our school superintendent. I don't even bother with the tv mets anymore...just keep checking in with you guys on my phone.

The only problem with fb is that it is blocked in some work places and schools so an app would be awesome.

Just keep doing what you do CWG and let your fans spread the word.

Posted by: mudbucket | January 31, 2011 12:23 PM | Report abuse

@Blue Thunder 613. Mostly good points, and a helpful link. However, you say
"Employees can take unscheduled leave from the time the announcement is made until it takes effect." But I do not think this is the policy. Indeed, the document you link to says specifically that "An employee who leaves work before an early departure policy is announced, or before his or her early departure time, should be charged annual leave or leave without pay beginning at the time the employee left work and for the remainder of his or her scheduled workday."

They do allow for exceptions--if you can telework after getting home, or if your supervisor is convinced that leaving at your official early dismissal time would cause special hardship--but in general, if OPM says that you can leave X hours early, but you leave more than X hours early, my understanding is that you lose the benefit of the X hours of excused absence. Sometimes this may be worth it--I left the office 4 hours early last Wednesday, even though it meant taking 4 hours of leave, and I'm glad I did--but the policy does seem to discourage independent judgement.

Posted by: lkusmin | January 31, 2011 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I totally agree with the comments about Draconian corporate closing policies and pressures. We subcontract to two major Fed contractors and neither announced (nor permitted ostensibly) early closures last week. When I became the one who makes the call for my company a decade ago, I made a firm commitment to erring on the side of caution. I couldn't stand it if one of my employees wind up wrapped around a tree in my pursuit of profits.

Posted by: ArlingtonSnowGal | January 31, 2011 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I heeded the advice of the CWG and headed home around 2. I had to walk two really furious dogs in the pouring sleet at 3:30, but I was home before the worse of it came. As I was walking out the door, the big office boss caught me and gave me a little bit of hell. However, it took him 6 hours to get home that night and in today's staff meeting, he told everyone to always use their best judgment. Nice.

Posted by: hereandnow1 | January 31, 2011 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I echo the praise for CWG, at least. I got my wife and kids home and off the road just as the storm hit, based on CWG's comments and the radar you showed. She's commented several times that she felt dumb leaving when she did, because the sky was clear. Halfway through her ride home, it wasn't, and by the time she got home, the blizzard had started.

As someone said above, "Commutageddon" was a matter of minutes. CWG made that situation clear to me; no other outlet did.

Posted by: DellC | January 31, 2011 12:30 PM | Report abuse

peopleofearthattention:

With all due respect, it is hardly relevant to compare a major metropolitan area to North Dakota. Lots more people, lots more cars and a resulting traffic bottleneck.
I grew up in snow country and definitely think people can be winter weenies. But let's get real here.

Posted by: bodypolitic | January 31, 2011 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I warned everyone at work and nobody listened. They all got stuck going home. I was the only one who came it late and planned to stay at work until it was over. I have a jeep but knew the roads would not be passable because of all the traffic. I had to be at work in case of power outages so I couldn't leave early or I would have.

Like someone else said, people only believe what they see and they didn't see this coming. I just had to laugh.

Posted by: weatherOrNot | January 31, 2011 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I think that CWG and media did all they could do. As someone who's moved here from the north (I'll try not to be too smug), I think that DC area drivers could:

1. Learn to drive in the snow
2. NOT abandon your car in the middle of the road!

I also wonder what kind of condition most MD drivers' tires are in. In every other state I've lived in, your tires are inspected (along with your yearly auto inspection) for treadwear. I was dumbfounded that there's no such inspection here. Are we all driving on bald tires here?

Posted by: thunderstone | January 31, 2011 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Hey, peopleofear..., quit blaming us liberals for the bad weather!!! My take...it's probably the tea party conservatives with their continued cries of "cut Federal spending...yada yada yada" who probably bear a lot of blame for inaccurate weather forecasting and the lack of research that leads to better forecasts. Generally you need Federal funds for this type of research at university departments of meteorology [e.g. Wisconsin, Penn State, Plymouth State, etc.].

As for thundersnow, the NWS never forecasts thundersnow. They could do a MUCH BETTER JOB in that department. If you can forecast convective rain events you can sure as heck forecast convective snow or ice events! Granted,it's rather rare, but it's still predictable. Just simply say "periods of heavy snow, with thunderstorms possible"; people will get the message! Reminds me of back in the early 1900's when the NWS' predecessor never mentioned "tornadoes" in their severe weather forecasts; back then they were evidently afraid of alarming folks in Tornado Alley [many of whom had the sense to run for the storm cellar whenever threatening weather appeared in the west on a hot humid late spring afternoon!] of the possibility of hazardous conditions.

As for myself, I had to be out on an errand Wednesday afternoon. I was able to board a bus home around 5 pm but it got caught and stalled on Columbia Pike due to the stalled cars ahead of it. I walked home about a mile and a half from Taylor Street to my condo on Eighth Road South while passing lots of stalled vehicles on the Pike.

IMO the Feds should have begun anticipatory closings at noon, not at 3 pm as they did. Many people would have gotten home before the rain turned into heavy snow!

The storm was well-forecast; I took this into consideration before setting out on my afternoon errand.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | January 31, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I think part of the problem is the way weather forecasts are conveyed to the public. It is often presented as a categorical "this is going to happen" or "this will not happen" based on what the probabilities are. So if it's a 60% chance of accumulating snow and 40% chance of just rain, the message usually becomes "it's going to snow" or "it is likely to snow", instead of giving people the chance percentages of snow and rain. Then when the forecast busts, people just remember it as a bust and start to disregard weather forecasts when they don't seem to jive with what they see.

Posted by: xandersun | January 31, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

The strongest case to be made for the NWS to have issued the warning/special statement Tuesday night instead of Weds morning is that it would have undercut the downplaying by WTOP/Doug Hill/other TV mets, and they would have been forced to treat the situation more seriously sooner. By delaying the warning, the NWS defaulted on its taxpayer-funded "mission is to protect life and property."

Posted by: petworthlad | January 31, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

As an aside, I heard Chuck Bell use the term Commutageddon yesterday. Specifically, he said that tonight would not be a repeat of Commutageddon.

Posted by: spgass1 | January 31, 2011 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Ever since I discovered CWG right before the first storm of *last* winter, I swear by them, and them alone. CWG's frequency of updating their in-depth forecasts has proven to me that they're by and far the BEST weather reporting outlet in this area. By a landslide.

It's all well and good that NWS put out warning. BUT, they're well known to "cry wolf" for just about every storm. They warn that we could get 5 inches (or 10 even) and we end up with a dusting. After a few storms like this, i've learned to take anything they say with a grain of salt. If they call for a blizzard, I am usually sure it *might* snow, but there's no telling how much it might actually snow, at least not by what they say.

For the record, the ONLY weather forecasts i trust anymore are CWG's and i'll share that with ANYONE that asks, and even a few people that don't.

Posted by: pgcoresident | January 31, 2011 12:50 PM | Report abuse

After reading the blog, we changed around our entire plan for getting our oldest to grandma's house so we could take our youngest into DC for surgery the next day. Believe me this takes a lot of planning and schedule juggling to get it right. I'm so glad that we heeded your advice. Everything went smoothly from start to finish getting to grandma's and back home with relatively few hangups. by the time we pulled into the garage though, it was coming down hard! After that the real drama began. Thanks for your amazing work.

Posted by: snowmomma | January 31, 2011 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and one more thing...

Once more PEPCO has trailed well behind all other power companies: investor-owned, municipal or cooperative--in the speed of power restoration to affected areas.

There were nearly as many Dominion customers affected by the snowstorm in Virginia--most of them had their power back by the weekend. Don't keep blaming the trees--they caused the outages in Virginia as well!

Posted by: Bombo47jea | January 31, 2011 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I agree with faulting management and OPM. Back when Isobel hit, my home office REFUSED to let us go. Finally, our Veep, at risk of being fired, let us go by zone. My poor little car hydroplaned all the way home.

These days thins are better and I can WFH. I left between meetings and was safely tucked in my house before the bad stuff hit.

Over the years my company has shifted from the "you have to be in the office model" to a metrics model. They are more concerned with what you are getting done as opposed to where and, quite frankly, when you are getting it done.

Posted by: SPS1 | January 31, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

There used to be a staggered-release policy for DC-based Federal workers back in the '80s. No surprise, an epic fail by OPM in setting us all free at once into the teeth of a snowstorm was the reason the policy was developed.

Posted by: KGDave | January 31, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

When OPM allowed a 2 hour early dismissal, I begged my husband to take some of our precious leave and take the first VRE train out of town. He did so, and pulled into our driveway in Manassas just as the heavy sleet started pouring down. Three hours later, we were out of power, our cars were encased in ice and snow, and dozens of trees were down across our road. Of course, he was expected to make it to work by 10AM the next morning, so we had to burn more leave. We did not get power back until Saturday.

With all the discussion about OPM's poor decision-making (they should have let people go two hours BEFORE THE STORM, not two hours before the end of the workday), there has been no mention of the VRE schedule. Only one train leaves midday on both lines. The next train does not leave for another three hours, right at the start of the evening rush.

So for all the people who rely on the VRE, an early dismissal or a late start don't mean anything without taking personal leave.

How hard would it be for OPM to take a peek at CWG? You guys rock!

Posted by: homeschool4joy | January 31, 2011 1:07 PM | Report abuse

OPM just announced Unschedule Leave or Unscheduled Telework for tomorrow. So they are ahead of the game this time around!

Posted by: UMDTerpsGirl | January 31, 2011 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Well, it's kind of hard to spread the word when Doug Hill and Sue Palka are telling people the opposite. Lol I told a friend not to go to his 3:00 class. Took him eight hours to get back home. He said that was the last time he doesn't listen to me.

Posted by: MVPlaya8120 | January 31, 2011 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I kept close watch on the storm via Weather Channel, WaPo and tv stations. Every tv station was predicting something far different than the other station, to the point it was worthless. After reading your recommendation to be off the roads by 4pm, didn't wait for my two-hour early dismissal. I took two hours leave, no problem with Metro and the bus, was home by 2pm. THANK YOU for your urgent "get off the road" warning.

And a note about the early dismissal from the government. Never heard a word from OPM about it. A co-worker heard it on WTOP and alerted us. I've heard some people say they didn't know they could have left early...

Posted by: TommyMcGuire | January 31, 2011 1:19 PM | Report abuse

OPM's message about Tuesday is actually fairly detailed.

http://www.opm.gov/status/index.aspx

Posted by: dottie_b | January 31, 2011 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Wow, thanks for the heads up on OPM.

To quote Great White & Ian Hunter, "Once bitten, twice shy!"

Posted by: wadejg | January 31, 2011 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Any Early Warning System is only as strong as its weakest link. Meteorologists "detected" this event, made a prediction, alerted the public etc etc. But many in the public didn't act. Stupid is as stupid does. I was home by 3pm kicking my heels up and watching the drama unfold on the Tee Vee.

Posted by: johnnyd2 | January 31, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

You guys are my "Weather Bible!" I don't pay much attention to the local weather teams unless they are in agreement with Captial Weather Gang...YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME!! As the earlier poster said...OPM is paying attention to the criticism. However, they DID stagger...while 2hr early departure is a single block of time, many in the fed gov't work on flex/aleternate/ maixflex schedules...we all don't arrive at the same time or depart at the same time, therefore that 2hr block would appropriately stagger departures. But if early dismissal isn't accomodated by early arrivals of commuter transit NOTHING will work, as the previous poster so accurately stated. Wednesday was a shining example of coordination failure at every level. Remember 9/11...you'd have thought the Washington region would have figured it out and had emergency depatures streamlined by now, I mean really!!!

Posted by: vexvet | January 31, 2011 1:48 PM | Report abuse

For what it’s worth, I’m an Android user, and I just have the Capital Weather Gang page bookmarked and view it using my browser. Sometimes the ads get a bit overwhelming, and I would like to see a mobile version of the site or an app, but it really works out just fine. And I just tap on the URL to share it on facebook. Presto! No problems.

I think a big problem on Wednesday was people waiting for their offices to close instead of just taking the leave and taking responsibility for themselves. Sure, a lot of people do not have the choice to leave early, but many who could have, did not. That’s part of what leave is for, not just for vacations! Maybe I have little sympathy – I’m a contractor, and if the office closes for weather, I just get to take PTO, if I have it. No pay, if I don’t have any PTO left. I don’t get an extra day of paid vacation for it. People should watch the weather for themselves and take a little responsibility, instead of relying on somebody else to foot the bill for them to take care of their own personal safety.

Posted by: FrozenTundraTransplant | January 31, 2011 1:51 PM | Report abuse

@SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang

I should say, that my disdain for the WP mobile apps/social integration has nothing to do with the high regard with which I hold the CWG blog and the really innovative format for reporting on the weather that CWG has created here.

It is truly brilliant.

I recognize that the WP as a whole likely has policies and procedures in place to mediate the expansion into new markets. And that it can have a slowing effect on the development of new products for mobile use.

But in the context of "what can be done better?" I think that mobile solutions would be an area of obvious growth. Any frustration you read in my earlier post has only to do with the half-baked and stilted mobile product that WP has attached it's name to.

That product is clearly just a light re-skinning of the built in mobile browser with links disabled (WTH?). Anyway without getting too technical about it... it lags way behind the way in which you are approaching weather reporting, and I am glad to read that you are upgrading it.

Posted by: gconrads | January 31, 2011 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I really think NWS needs a couple stronger statement types. "Special Weather Statement" doesn't portray the right meaning when someone just reads it. More so because it is used for a wide range of topics. For example: "it's going to be really cold tonight" which most people don't need to worry about and Fog notices that don't meet Dense Fog Advisory status.

I much rather see NWS re-implement a Blizzard Advisory, or Heavy Snow Warning that is sent in addition to the normal Winter Storm Warning that gives a higher level of alert.

Posted by: Shiipon | January 31, 2011 2:04 PM | Report abuse

CWG def. is/was the most accurate coverage and is well written, easy to understand for us non-weather geeks.
I know we are infamous weather weenies (sp?) around here but a lot of that is to do with traffic on a good day being craptacular. Even when it drizzles on the Beltway some accident will cause a back up. No way would I want to be on the roads around here in snow, even very light snow.
If I worked for the Feds I would not rely on them to make the call, check CWG yourself. Use 1/2 day PTO if you need.
I felt awful reading the stories of massive towing bills, not being able to get to kids still in daycare, etc.
But Personal Responsiblity leads to at least somewhat being Prepared, right? Just saying...

Posted by: love4all1 | January 31, 2011 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to hear the stories about getting home during Commutageddon from the decision makers at OPM. Did they experience the same delays the rest of us did? I bet not. I bet they got the government to put them up in a DC hotel for the night and didn't spend 4 or more hours on the road like most of us did. If they had gone through the same experience, it might change their response next time.

Posted by: rb-freedom-for-all | January 31, 2011 2:16 PM | Report abuse

The person above who commented on everyone leaving the city at once nailed it. When late arrival is authorized, people stagger their commutes based on local conditions, what their schools are doing, and how long it takes to dig out the car. Given the number of companies that follow the federal government, the traffic situation was more like one that would occur after a city evacuation than it was like a run-of-the-mill snowstorm.

Posted by: Justathought1 | January 31, 2011 2:17 PM | Report abuse

CWG, like Gene Weingarten, are abslolutly local treasures. Thank you WaPo for both.

Bill Castner

Posted by: bcastner | January 31, 2011 2:19 PM | Report abuse

I don't have a big issue with an emphasis on "work," but I have a huge issue with the emphasis on "hours." Making someone sit at a desk for a certain number of hours has nothing to do with getting work done. At the end of the day Friday, if the work's done, what difference does it make if someone went home a little early on Wednesday? Good managers know that it makes no difference (or in the case of last Wednesday, it makes a huge difference to the potential safety and sanity of their workers)

Posted by: SHLL | January 31, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse


Hip, hip hooray for CWG! Shame on so many others --authorities, employers and poorly equipped reckless individuals.

No one should trust that these players in the last fiasco will perform better in the next storm, or any other emergency. Regularly top off your fuel tank, keep water, snacks and appropriate clothes and gear (blanket, shovel, jumper cables, etc) in your car - 24/7/365.

I heeded the CWG warnings last week and am grateful for the option of staying off the road. Not everyone can. But if I had been one of those stuck on the GW Parkway, my AWD SUV with capable tires (and tire chains) had a full tank of gas and bottled water, snacks, shovel, sleeping bag, boots, chemical hand and feet warmers, fleece and more than can be listed here (we do a lot of camping). Prepare to be stuck.

Posted by: Gidgmom | January 31, 2011 2:42 PM | Report abuse

First off, I'd like to thank the CWG and all of the posters. Normally, when the government shuts down early, I wait a couple of hours for the glut of traffic to get out of the way. My commute is only 8 miles, mostly major highway, so this usually works well. Reading the observations of people to the south and west convinced me that this was not the typical slow-building Washington area snow storm. I left Crystal City at 3:15, and was home just after 4:00.

Oh, and the squirrel reports were greatly appreciated too.

As for improving media weather, a big problem is the tendancy of TV weather to shriek "Big Scary Blizzard!" for even small snow storms. Then the small storm fizzles out to flurries. So, when a nasty storm does appear, people figure it is just another "Big Scary Blizzard!" and ignore it. Less hype over the little stuff would help build credibility.

Posted by: magicdomino | January 31, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

This is largely a white-collar area. With modern innovations such as Virtual Private Networks, there is really no need to sit at your desk eight hours a day on any given day. Yes, coordination meetings are essential, but not every day.

Some managers view attendance as equaling work, and that's simply not true anymore. Working From Home (only the government could coin the term "telework") is very productive for most people. Managers who try to make work like the Bataan Death March to see how long someone can endure staying in dangerous weather were stupid 30 years ago and the people like me who were brought up through that need to change things. My people were all home all day Wednesday - I can read a weather forecast.

Posted by: oldiesfan1 | January 31, 2011 3:00 PM | Report abuse

While weather forecasting can't impact public official decisions or social policy, quicker ways to disseminate info can. I knew from reading CWG that we were in for trouble. But the bureacracy is slow so if the NWS issues an alert at 11:45AM it will take HOURS for the government to react. If decision makers had access to the kind of info we get from CWG, perhaps more businesses and government would have released earlier.

Posted by: biketraveller22 | January 31, 2011 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I spent most of the night in my car three miles from home on Rt. 50 in Fairfax after my battery died at 7:35 PM in the motionless traffic clogged by commuters and abandoned vehicles. Around 3:00 AM after numerous calls to and from Fairfax PD and my roadside assistance provider, all swamped, a Good Samaritan stopped on the by then deserted road and I was on my way in five minutes, on slushy unplowed streets, dodging at least 20 abandoned enroute to chicken soup and bed. Arrived just in time to have the snow plow dump waist high snow to block my car in and spent Thursday shoveling out. We old folks have to take frequent breaks. Everyone can't leave work at a time of their choosing, and there is a "slacker" stigma in many businesses. This was the worst gridlock I have seen since the Bicentennial fireworks in 1976. If the federal government had excused workers earlier when it was still raining or if I had decided on a long boozy dinner and a nap at the office, I could have avoided being stuck in a cold car for eight hours - but it seemed perfectly do-able at the time and I-495 was still in good shape. I got on Rt.50 and everything simply stopped, for hours. My co-worker who left at 2:00 when it was only raining had a nine hour trip from Seven Corners to Fair Oaks. Too many cars in too short a time window. But great job, CWG. As a complete snow hater, I must say the vividly colored thundersnows did provide a distraction from my misery.

Posted by: GreybirdK1 | January 31, 2011 3:07 PM | Report abuse


If OPM's Director John Berry and his entire staff does not now have CWG bookmarked, he should be canned.


Posted by: Gidgmom | January 31, 2011 3:08 PM | Report abuse

TerpsUMDGirl saw the message, and maybe some others of you...
did you all at least see the proactive email sent out by OPM regarding possible upcoming OPM status changes? Pretty good, right?

Posted by: Camden-CapitalWeatherGang | January 31, 2011 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I hung out with CWG all night for the first "live blogging of the models." CWG's analysis made it clear that we were in for it. How surreal the next morning, then, to hear the WTOP mets from WJLA (you know who you are!) forecast "light rain this evening." In a word, WTOP, you need CWG mets, not WJLA and their Kmart "in-house model."

I was furious. Many, many Washingtonians listen to WTOP radio during morning drive-time. Even The Washington Post doesn't seem to know what they have in CWG. The "inconsistent forecasts" the Post mentioned as contributing factors to the hellish commute were not from CWG. Doug Hill and his cronies blew it big time. Local TV newscast ratings are in steady decline across all timeslots; but thousands of Feds and commuters heard those bogus radio forecasts by D-Dog, Chris Naille, Brian van de Graaff, and other WJLA "mets." A significant storm is a PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE, and only CWG sounded the alarm. The human suffering caused by such irresponsible and unprofessional forecasts is just inexcusable. CWG is headed for big things.
Shame on you, other local mets, for the untold pain and agony you could have prevented.

Posted by: Hoyas4Ever | January 31, 2011 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Ok, I don’t care whether CWG got right or not. As far as I’m concern VDOT dropped the ball on this one, period! Sure they were on top of their game when we had those light dusting of snow, treating the roads and having their plow truck ready to go, but when they got their first real snow…well we all know what happened then.

Posted by: pr2003 | January 31, 2011 3:41 PM | Report abuse

The warnings for future forecasted Commutagedens will be heeded until the first wrong forecast, with the "it just missed us" explanation. Then it's back to ignoring the warnings...

Posted by: hawknt | January 31, 2011 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Allow me to echo the prevailing sentiment that it's hard to see what else CWG could have done. Unfortunately I was one of the idiots on the road - my staff were all working at home, but I was in the office working on a proposal (in a windowless interior room) with some other folks and completely lost track of time. Eight hours in the car later... Next time I'm going back to my usual routine of "I'm not being a wimp, I'm keeping the roads clear." The next stage of demonstrating learning behavior is to get a generator to offset the typical Pepco outages (only 65 hours this time!) and I'm all set.

Posted by: haggis | January 31, 2011 3:58 PM | Report abuse

From OPM's website regarding tomorrow:

"Now is the time for managers and employees to discuss the possibility of working from home on Tuesday. Uncertain weather conditions could extend through Wednesday. OPM will update the operating status as needed and appropriate. This may include a delayed arrival on Tuesday morning."

Don't they mean delayed arrival on WEDNESDAY morning, not tomorrow morning. Sheesh, they should be more careful about their wording.

Posted by: itsme1 | January 31, 2011 4:10 PM | Report abuse

I do enjoy reading complaints directed at VDOT. I would love to know what they could have done to fix this. they put down pre-treatment, it got washed away by heavy rain/sleet to start the storm. So they are out waiting to plow the heavy snow falling at 2" an hour only to find millions of idiots are still at work and trying to flee home at 3-4pm. Not very easy to plow roads through cars. This wasn't even remotely VDOTs fault. Every forecast in the nation was calling for crippling heavy snowfall in the afternoon. Even if your workplace was not forward thinking enough to dismiss early, there's a LOT of people who had an option to leave early and chose to not exercise it until they saw the heavy snow falling with their own eyes. Too late.

on an unrelated side note, please please stop with the lame ____ageddon nicknames. these are almost as stupid as the ____Gate nicknames that the media seems to feel obligated to assign to any shady situation resembling Watergate. come up with new material! lol

Posted by: TheSwami | January 31, 2011 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Any time the roads are slick at rush hour the local, state,federal and city governments are not prepared to keep traffic moving, When asked they all have the same response we could not get through because of the traffic.
Better planning would stop these 8 hour commutes. It's not ok after you have release several million people onto the roads at once to then say those people caused the problem. Staggering release time would be a substantial help and planning for the emergencies by having a plan to re-time critical lights to avoid grid lock. Placing emergency equipment to keep traffic moving at known bottlenecks. there are probably lots of other ways to help alleviate the problems.

Posted by: fish4 | January 31, 2011 4:25 PM | Report abuse

@CWG

As far as the storm this weekend, nothing is set in stone since it is 5-7 days away and please do not say it is going to rain. It seems you operate under the assumption that every computer model has to show a snowstorm to even mention the risk of snow. The stars do not have to align for the area to see snow and if they do then it happened last week. It really frustrates me the way you forecast weather. Your analysis takes on this tone of predictability when we all know things change from day to day. In my honest opinion last week's storm was forecasted poorly until the day it happened. Please do not make this mistake again and leave all options on table.

Posted by: ajmupitt | January 31, 2011 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Some commenters above talked about bosses not believing the bad weather until they see it. A few hours before the sleet, I looked at the radar, saw what was hitting to the west and its track, and there was clearly no way that was going to track differently or stay above freezing once it hit. Just like in the summer, you can see the storm coming if you just check the radar.

There have been other occasions where I chose to work from home instead of risk a bad weather commute, and I do not regret it, nor do I regret it last Wednesday. My spouse had no choice, and wasn't let out until 5pm Wed. Instead of a 10 minute commute, it was an hour, followed by 20 minutes shoveling out the car that got stuck (and using the sand we keep in the back of the car), although that was not far from home.

Posted by: DrMeglet | January 31, 2011 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I kept hitting refresh on your page all day to check on updates, and it was my own fault I didn't follow your advice - I specifically remember seeing the "be off the roads by 4pm" posting that you included above. I left at 4pm from my office in Reston, and it took me 2 hours to get to my home in Falls Church city - I'm pretty certain if I had left at 3:30 (as I originally planned) I would have been home by 4pm with no difficulty. That said, my 2 hr commute would have been a lot shorter if people here knew how to drive properly (yes, I'm from the north)...

I can't speak to the performance of other weather outlets as I no longer trust them - everyone at my office compares the latest updates from CWG! Thanks for the great work!

Posted by: PMMgal | January 31, 2011 5:12 PM | Report abuse

In spite of CWG warnings and debatable media coverage quality, I think most people just didn't take it seriously enough, myself included. I got lucky and only had a 1.5 hour trip home, but that was only because I wasn't heading west into the storm. I think we can cut VDOT a little slack in that their efforts to pretreat the roads were rendered ineffective by the heavy rain before the snow and when the heavy snow started in the midst of the rush, plows were unable to work effectively. In hindsight, when looking at the weather maps and radar, it was easy to see it coming, and those wiser than most of us got moving early. Lessons for next time...

Posted by: Laura_8068 | January 31, 2011 6:34 PM | Report abuse

This was a hard lesson in planning ahead, but the worst part is that Wednesday's storm proved to be fatal. An acquaintence of mine died in a car accident trying to make his way home. It's hard not to imagine all the possible what if's that could've ended in him getting home to his wife and son. People in general - bosses, agencies, everyone - need to be better informed and plan for the worst. Like so many people have said, this kind of information should be blasted all day and we should put our safety first.

We can't do anything about the weather, but we can decide how best to deal with it.

Posted by: lcd10 | January 31, 2011 8:54 PM | Report abuse

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