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Taking a Lesson From Chicago

By Mike McPhate  |  January 30, 2009; 12:38 AM ET
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Seriously. Former Chicagoan here. He was right on the money. I can't believe how quickly schools shut down in this town, and how often my kid misses outdoor recess. Wear a hat, gloves, and boots, and go outside, ferchrissakes.

Posted by: localyokel | January 30, 2009 8:08 AM | Report abuse

President Obama was making a joke. What part of humor do we not understand?

Maybe his intelligence or just "the climare of the grim times" makes us tone deaf?

Posted by: CoraCollins | January 30, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

Having also lived in Chicago, Boston and New York I understand Pres. Obama's reaction - but I also suspect his experience of DC area drivers in rain and 'wintery mix' is not great, therefore he doesn't realize that the rules are different here.

Posted by: bonwitt | January 30, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Next summer, when it is 98 degrees with 80% humidity, locals will be going about their business but obama will never leave his air-conditioned office. He is too quick to judge others while assuming himself to be superior.

Posted by: John74 | January 30, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Interesting...need some Chicago toughness to go to school, however, the Oval Office is hot enought "to grow orchids" because the President is from Hawaii and doesn't do well with too cold an office? How about a little toughness in the office to conserve some energy?

Posted by: Justlistening | January 30, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Send my fireplace some stimulus firewood, and then we'll talk!

Posted by: jimward21 | January 30, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

If the Bama likes the weather in Chicago better, then he can go there and stay! I'd be happy to have him leave and not come back.

Posted by: richnemie | January 30, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

First, Chicago summers have plenty of 90+ days with plenty of humidity, compliments of the lake.

In the rare instances where there is real snow, then it is "different here" b/c we don't have enough snow plows. But there was no reason to close schools on Tuesday. He was right that it was ridiculous. If the school buses can get down the street (and they almost always can) school should go on.

Posted by: kackidee | January 30, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I can understand his reaction, but he really shouldn't have blasted off like that. Open mouth, insert food. DC is not Chicago, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Posted by: DCCubefarm | January 30, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Errr... I meant "open mouth, insert *foot*". Thinking a little too hard about upcoming lunch, I suppose!

Posted by: DCCubefarm | January 30, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

His daughters attend private school. DC public schools opened 2 hours late. If he doesn't want them missing school, he should send them to public school. (Yeah, right.)

I guess he didn't get out of his WH bubble to see what neighborhoods actually looked like on Wednesday. Would he have been okay with a child slipping & falling on the ice as long as he or she got to school? Safety shouldn't take a back seat to "flinty Chicago toughness."

Speaking of which, it seems that our new president is a bit of a hothouse flower himself. The NY Times (

"The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

“He’s from Hawaii, O.K.?” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”

Poor baby! He doesn't like the cold! Since the taxpayers are footing his bill, I suggest he invest in some really nice sweaters. I bet the 1.3 million people without electricity in Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, and West Virginia would like some warmth (once they get power back in 2 weeks). And the 93 year old guy who froze to death in Detroit probably could have used some heat too. And the residents of New England who are applying for heating assistance would enjoy some warmth as well.

I guess energy conservation isn't on his radar. He must still be dreaming of "clean coal."

Posted by: cab91 | January 30, 2009 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Our "environmental" Preseident (from Chicago) thinks it's "too cold" in the White House and turns up the heat...while saying to us "Tough it out?".... It's gonna be an interesting four years....

Posted by: tomlang | January 30, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I do think everything shuts down here far too much. On the other hand, Obama's got a lot of nerve calling us weather wimps when his own office is kept at virtual boiling point -- turn down the heat and put a sweater on, you wimp, this ain't Hawaii!

Posted by: wanderer1 | January 30, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

The President's comment was typical of Yankees who move here, who are used to colder climates which results in drier, less slippery snow. If you don't think I'm right, look at Chicago, Denver, Buffalo, et al when they get one of those really early season (October) snows when the temp is just at freezing, and they slide off the roads just like we do here. The closer to the freezing mark, the less dry the snow, the more slippery it is.

That being said, schools close a lot more around here for snow than they did 20 years ago.

Posted by: johnsondeb | January 30, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Snow days are planned for in the school calendar, which allocates a certain number per year, and are a cheap alternative to investing in more snow removal equipment and personnel for a relatively rare situation. That's the rational explanation for why this makes sense here. Also, because we're on the snow, ice, rain line and the weather is always hard to predict, snow days sometimes get called unnecessarily. That doesn't make the idea wrong.

What some people don't realize is that snow days are also a happy and totally unpredictable change of pace that helps put everyday life in perspective, promote a little unstructured family and leisure time, and let off the pressure on some of the country's most over-scheduled, stressed-out kids. Think of snow days as a psychological pressure-relief valve and you will understand why people in this area are upset at the thought of losing this quirky, light-hearted element of winter (which is otherwise cold, overcast, and dreary around DC).

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | January 30, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

school bus driver here - the roads that may look fine to you in your car are frequently not at all fine to a large, heavy, ungainly vehicle, with a wide turning radius at the best of times, with a lot of over-excited kids. So, you get out here and try to drive my bus on a sheet of ice. I try to get your kids safely to school.

That said, Mr Obama needs to stay out of local politics, except for signing a bill to give Washingtonians voting rights. I think it would be a good thing for our new president to spend a day with Mayor Fenty, to see what the Mayor has to go through each day running this city.

Posted by: plantlady1 | January 30, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Snow days are treated like an entitlement around here (VA). I've seen them cancel school on the rumor of snow. When they do cancel, the kids don't seem to have any problem getting to the mall. I've always assumed that's why VA students are dumber than their counterparts in the midwest.

Posted by: steve_k2 | January 30, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

My husband and I are locals and our families have been in Virginia at least 30 years. We KNOW how to drive in the winter weather common to the area. It's out-of-staters who give us the bad rep by driving dangerously during bad weather. So please, Mr. President, don't hate on us.

Posted by: awb1 | January 30, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Every snow expert from around the country takes shots at this area because of our reaction to snow. This region is fairly unique because of the frequency that winter precipitation will arrive when the temps are in the 30-33 degree range. We don't get the snow that midwesterners and New Englanders get (when you can get traction) - we get slush (dangerous). The local schools overreact because they are fearful of lawsuits if they make the wrong call and some children get injured or worse, their parent has to come and get them.

Someone tell our new President that 60" of packed snow IS NOT THE SAME as 1/2" of slush. He's welcome to get his hind end out and walk the sidewalks of upper NW or NE DC and see how he fares.

To all of the non-DC natives who think they are the wintry weather experts, from the rest of us: "Bite Me".

Posted by: AWWNats | January 30, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

For a little joshing by the President to provoke this much of a defensive outcry shows just how thin skinned area journalists are.

Posted by: barbnc | January 30, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Joke or not it was still an idiotic comment (for the reasons outlined above) by someone smart enough to know better.

Posted by: thedude1974 | January 30, 2009 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I do think it the comment was made in jest and should not been seen as a serious declaration from our President. I find it funny that he likes the oval office to be boiling hot, especially since he'll be dealing with enough issues to make him sweat in the upcoming months.

As for the comment about how schools closer sooner now than they did 20 years ago, I was in middle school in montgomery county not 10 years ago and I remember the storms in 1996 and 1998 and they waited until the last possible moment to close anything. Oddly enough, in my last 2 years of high school I remember 4 specific occasions when the schools were closed and we didn't see inch 1 of snow or ice or anything. I do believe we've gone soft on snow. That being said, the roads were terrible on tuesday morning. I live in a normal suburban neighborhood where I was woken up by cars not being able to make it up my street because of the ice. Some of the more major roads that go by the local public schools were just asking for multicar pile-ups; and that was in the southern part of the county, I can't imagine what gaithersburg and damascus looked like.
Back on point, Obama can say whatever he feels like. He's not making decisions that in anyway are effected by the weather so who cares if he thinks Washingtonians scare easy from the weather, I bet someone from Minesota or Wisconsin could say the same about him.

Posted by: cjbinder | January 30, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Spot on comments about the difference driving in Mid-Atlantic winter conditions and in colder winter areas. I spent many years in Salt Lake City and we never were stopped by snow. Then I came here are got my first initiation to freezing rain and ice layered with snow.

Our President (and some other flinty commentators here) ought to learn something about the Metro area before spouting off. Yesterday Loudoun County Schools did not shut down, and 8 school buses were involved in minor, icy road-related accidents. There are 600 miles of dirt roads out here, and they have to be negotiated by school buses.

What I heard in Obabma's comments was that tone that can easily been interpreted as condescension...kind of like the hanging on to religion and guns remark. Just watch who and how you judge, sir.

Posted by: seahawkdad | January 30, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

It's the lead in the water, Mr. President!

Posted by: Its_the_Truth_Anyhow | January 30, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

The problem is the people of Chicago have to shell out too much money to get a snow day. 'It's a valuable thing'

Posted by: KCW123 | January 30, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

When your kids travel to school in a taxpayer-paid motorcade, you probably shouldn't be critical of decisions made in the interests of children who must walk down untreated sidewalks, or stand in the street waiting for a bus.

Posted by: n8n9 | January 30, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Hey, the Obama man is from the Windy City...Chicago. He hasn't been here long enough to know that Washingtonians are weather-challenged! There's no shame in our game, we all leave work at the first sign of the odd flake (unless you're from somewhere else and make fun) and run to the nearest food store to buy up everything. We love snow days and so do our kids! At least the city does a much better job of cleaning the streets.

Posted by: sienna32798 | January 30, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I feel like when I was a kid growing up with my 2 brothers. We could beat up on each other, but if someone on the outside said anything bad about any of us, that was WAR! Seriously, it was said with humor and should be taken with humor. And frankly, it's more truth than fiction!!!

Posted by: dinad1 | January 30, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

I get that he was making a joke, but it is like the guy who asks you if it's hot enough for you in 100 degree heat - we've heard it before a million times.

I grew up in New England and I went through the same mystification over the ease of school closings. But I have since figured it out - since we hardly ever get any wintery weather we don't really have a budget to keep people at the ready full time all winter long in case it does snow. Unlike places like New England and Chicago, who have a full staff of people to do just that job.

He will get over his amazement just like the rest of us, eventually.

Posted by: mwalkerg | January 30, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

The man simply speaks truth, with a little humor. I look forward to his comments about the summer.

Posted by: szwheelock | January 30, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

He's right - DC folks are whining wimps when it comes to snow and ice. I remember growing up in central New Jersey and watching folks down here panic when snows hit - all while getting dressed to head out to school with several inches on the ground!!! Folks down here need to grow up and realize that it's only weather...better yet, why don't you take a lesson from the northern states and see how they handle it?

Posted by: calla_ash | January 30, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Of course he was kidding, but I don't think he realizes what a sensitive issue this is in these parts. No matter what schools do, people complain. If you don't close everyone says it was unsafe. If you do close the question is why.

What everyone, including the President has to realize his that Sidwell follows montgomery county and the elementary school is in Bethesda. Montgomery County is more than twice the size of cook county and much much larger than the actual city of Chicago. And most importantly the topography is much, much more varied. Just because downtown Silver Spring is clear and easy to drive and walk through does not mean that Damascus which is 40 minutes away and filled with rural roads and hills is. And because of the Magent school process kids are bussed all over the county. So the whole county has to shut down.

I would much rather see a lot of people stay home and feel "inconvenienced" than have even one bus load of elementary school kids skid off a road causing serious injuries or even death. I think erring on the side of caution is always appropriate in a potentially deadly situation.

Posted by: happydad3 | January 30, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

I don't think we're that bad, as far as wimps go. I was born and raised in Chicago...and we, here in D.C. - surrounding areas, too - have one thing Chicago doesn't! Hills and curves. Chicago has nice square city blocks for the most part. And once or twice, Chicago did have to close for snow. And he doesn't realize how much Chicagoans struggle to negotiate their way out of their's no fun. So, during the next bad snowstorm, let's have our President drive in Dale City, down the hills of that little city, and he may get a snowy perspective of life on the snowy, icey streets of D.C. in the most slippery way.

Posted by: LynnieF | January 30, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

I think it's completely obvious that the people in this area can't drive in any kind of weather. A month or so back it drizzled one day and sprinkled the next and it added 20 minutes to my commute. Why can't people drive when it's sprinkling? The road I take to work every day is usually wide open for a mile or two, and then there's a backup of varying lenghts for a bit. but any day it rains the road turns into a parking lot. And that's just rain. If it snows, forget about it. And I'm not from a climate with colder temps and more snow. In fact I've lived in this area my entire life except for ten years in TX. It snowed twice in the ten years I lived in Austin, and both "storms" were in the same week. There was about an inch on a Monday, and then three inches later in the week. Way before I ever heard about any of this I've been saying for years this area has got to have the worst drivers anywhere.

Posted by: red2million | January 30, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I too used to think it was nuts to close the schools so soon having moved here from Cleveland. I soon learned that with the amount of traffic in the DC area, that traffic barely moves on the best weather days. Put a little rain or snow on the road and you are not going to move. If your commute is 1 1/2 hour each way on a good day. You suddenly have a commute that will take you 5 hours or more to get back home. DC is not Chicago. Obama's girls may have gotten to school, but many of their teachers probably would not be there along with many of the other students who have a long commute. The teachers and other students do not have a Secret Service motorcade to get them through the traffic.

Posted by: amflick | January 30, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

No one seems to be mentioning my favorite part of this story, that the best joke came from a seven-year-old!

Posted by: Carrie6 | January 30, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Everyone needs to take a deep breath. It was a joke. That being said, schools were closed for ICE, not snow. Ice is an entirely different matter. Perhaps Adrian Fenty should buy Obama a Reagan cardigan and tell him to turn the heat down.

Posted by: fmjk | January 30, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Obama's right on the money.

And what's all this about people saying there's more ice here than in Chicago? I'm almost positive that isn't true. But Chicago aside, I can tell you as a transplant from Iowa that Des Moines wouldn't close down for trifles like the "storms" DC gets, and Des Moines definitely gets more ice than DC.
The roads were fine, and the sidewalks would have been fine if people around here learned to shovel their snow after a snowstorm.

Posted by: wddcm | January 30, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Why should Washingtonians be upset? The school the President's daughers attend, though in Washingon, follows the the school closing policy in Montgomery County and Northern Virginia. Even one the school's officials seems to agree with the President.
Don't chastise Washingtonians. Chastise the school, Virginians and Marylanders.

Posted by: Chalkduster | January 31, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

I hope that President Obama was speaking tongue in cheek, but if not, I would *love* for him to show his technique for driving on a street that is a solid sheet of untreated ice! Then, he can demonstrate how to drive on that same street if it is also on a hill.

I don't know what Chicago winters are like, but I suspect there is more snow than ice involved, and that his comment really only applies to snow storms.

Posted by: ptaforkids | January 31, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

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