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HysteriaWatch: The Countdown Continues

Snow morphs into ice. The hysteria over this week's storm is diminishing as the forecasted snow totals plummet. But the likelihood of Washington's favorite winter scenario--the lovely wintry mix--is rising, and that brings us an entirely different kind of Snow Hysteria, with intimations of power outages and cars slip-sliding all over the region's roads.

HysteriaWatch continues with overall lower ratings today:

What Channel 9 yesterday called "The Big One" "now looks like a wintry mess," the station's forecasters write. "We're likely to see a light dusting to a few inches of snow by Tuesday morning before the snow changes over to sleet and freezing rain." Now that doesn't sound quite so dramatic, right? So Channel 9's Hysteria Rating drops all the way down from a 6 to a 3.

Over at Channel 7, forecaster Brian van de Graaf nicely combines a measured tone with some urgency and a bit of humor: "Enjoy this calm before the storm, because whatever the form this next system takes it will be a messy and troublesome one. Have a great day." Hysteria Rating: 2.

But WTOP radio uses the info from Channel 7 to paint a more dire picture: "Forecasters say it will be 'everything and the kitchen sink,'" the station's home page says. The story goes on to quote 7's van de Graaf saying that "Even a four-wheel drive is not going to cut through the ice." Hysteria Rating: 5.

At, Jason Samenow is venturing some specific guesses, saying there's a 40 percent chance of accumulation of less than two inches, a far cry from the "big one" we heard about elsewhere over the weekend. In fact, Jason dares to say what the commercial TV forecasters so rarely admit: "Could it fizzle out? Yes -- especially from the perspective of those who want snow. Models have been trending warmer and warmer in the layer of the atmosphere where it's required to be cold for it to snow. So snow amounts could be quite modest."

Tony Perkins on Channel 5 takes a cautious and quite funny approach, predicting "some problems" from freezing rain and laces his forecast with all sorts of warnings, including "void where prohibited" and "your mileage may vary." Hysteria Rating: Zilch.

Channel 4 wins the high rating on the generally modest HysteriaMeter today, with lots of talk about "the biggest winter storm of the season" and a forecast of up to eight inches of snow: weatherman Tom "Kierein said the storm system could dump as much as 4 inches of snow in the District, and as much as 8 inches north and west of the city." Hysteria Rating: 6.

Here on the big website, the Post's Howard Schneider takes a gentler approach, writing that the storm is likely to "tickle the Washington area with snow tonight before giving way to a mixture of freezing rain and sleet that is expected to intensify by Tuesday afternoon and continue through tomorrow evening. Only light accumulations are expected...."

What's really going to happen? Not a whole heck of a lot, according to the National Weather Service:

Tuesday: New ice accumulation of around a 0.1 of an inch possible. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible. Tuesday Night: Periods of freezing rain. New precipitation amounts between three quarters and one inch possible.

Yep, less than an inch. Hoo-eeee! But never fear: The HysteriaWatch never stops.

By Marc Fisher |  February 12, 2007; 1:36 PM ET
Previous: Library Darts and Laurels | Next: HysteriaWatch: The Ice Cometh, Sort Of


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nice article. these weather people are a joke. they seem to enjoy raiasing the bar reagarding weather. I guess they need to get paid to do something other than play all the time on camera. What i do is wait and stick my head out the door to dtermine the weather.

Posted by: larry | February 12, 2007 2:19 PM

You are an idiot. The amount of precipitation refers to a liquid equivalent which is forecast to be about one inch - if it were freezing rain 1/4 to 1/2 inch, enough to cause tree damage and power outages.

Posted by: steve | February 12, 2007 2:26 PM

They are just getting warmed up Marc.

Montgomery County will be closed for SURE tomorrow!

I am factoring it into my plans.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 12, 2007 2:27 PM

Marc, it may seem like hysteria to you, but my commute and my home and work responsibilities require a worst case scenario. I can't just hop on the metro to get home, as I don't live anywhere near a metro stop. Therefore, the threat of ice, in addition to being something I don't enjoy driving in, makes my life very complicated.

Posted by: works in dc, lives in md | February 12, 2007 2:31 PM

works in dc - I think I understand where you're coming from, because I won't be able to use metro for my commitments tomorrow either. But, that's why the hysteria factor drives me nuts. I think driving in ice is very unsafe. It's hard to make contingency plans when the forecasts vary so much, or the general blather on the TV/radio hypes everything up enough that I'm not sure what to take seriously in the predictions and what not to. I want to know what the worst case scenario is as well. Preferably in calm, reasoned terms that I can have confidence in. Not these "oh, my god, run to Safeway and buy all the milk" terms that seem to feature in a lot of the reports any time it's going to snow.

Posted by: k | February 12, 2007 2:40 PM

They haven't gotten a storm right in years. They really nailed the 30 inches we got around this time 4 years ago! People will drive just like they do without bad weather. Schools will close, even when the roads are clear. Duck and cover!

Posted by: Frosty | February 12, 2007 2:47 PM

Not surprise here, I am ready to see all the wusses breaking down for a freaking dusting. The end of the world is here!!!!, let's get toilette paper and milk!!!!!.

Hey works in dc, lives in md, I don't leave nearby any metro station, so, like it or not I had to learn how to drive in ice/snow/sleet,etc. Stop complaining, do something about it and don't pay attention to the hype.

And yes, 50 bucks Montgomery County will shut everything down tomorrow. Those guys are worse than Monk.

Posted by: Jimbo | February 12, 2007 2:52 PM

I've lived here for 29 years and I still get suckered by these every single time. This one followed the classic scenario: a major storm forecast a week in advance before it even existed. For the first several days we're treated to the "big one" talk, with mentions of "heavy snow" and a "snow event". Then as the storm actually comes into existence, first the nature of the precipitation changes, into the "wintry mix" (please let's put this one to bed), with wildy ranging accumulation numbers, depending on if you live in the panhandle of West Virginia, northern Maryland, or Fredericksburg and points south (why not throw in Delaware and North Carolina while you're at it?). We're in the final stages now where the precipitation values fall off almost completely, while the timing of the storm gets pushed back further and further until it doesn't start at all.
There surely are closings already. My wife had a doctor's appointment canceled a few weeks ago a day before absolutely nothing fell out of the sky, so this "major event" has to shut something down.

Posted by: mike | February 12, 2007 3:03 PM

What's the latest? I just back from the store, had to buy lots of bread and milk. Must now head out and chop wood. What about the children? Is it too early to go pick them up from school. Better safe than sorry, I guess. Time to go check on the "Storm Team 2007" for the most up to date coverage. One question though: if there's ice on the road, should I wait for another time to do my not-really-necessary, easy going, discretionary driving? Or, should I drive only if absolutely necessary? I haven't heard the local weatherpeople advise me on that yet.

Posted by: Olympic Skier | February 12, 2007 3:06 PM

Wow, the anger of Post readers even comes out about the weather? Wow, really, wow. Here's to a snow day!!!

Posted by: Chill Pill | February 12, 2007 3:08 PM

Look, guys, if you want an accurate forecast, you need to go to the right place. I went to my Business Director's office snd asked if I could consult with her Magic 8 Ball. Yes, THE Magic 8-Ball. I asked, "Oh, Magic 8-Ball, will we get freezing rain tomorrow?" The 8-Ball answered, "Most likely."

There you have it.

Posted by: Mister Methane | February 12, 2007 3:08 PM

I love lamp.

Posted by: Brick Tamland | February 12, 2007 3:10 PM

In the weather folks defense, I've learned from actually reading at that this is a very complicated system due to the interaction of two separate fronts. The storm veering just 100 miles one way or another could swing it from an all snow event to an all rain event, or somewhere in between.

Posted by: COD | February 12, 2007 3:11 PM

Ride that pony, Marc!

Posted by: mark | February 12, 2007 3:18 PM

Tomorrow's forecast, 100% chance of light, followed by a 100% chance of darkness. Oh yeah, it might snow too.

Posted by: Frosty | February 12, 2007 3:18 PM

My wife, a FCPS teacher, predicts (and gloats) about cancellation on Tuesday and Wednesday with a two-hour delay on Thursday. My guess is that there will be nothing to speak of on the ground at 6am Tuesday, but the chicken little in FXCO and MOCO will pre-emptively cancel classes. Later, around lunchtime, everyone will be outside doing yardwork and washing their cars as temps hit the high 40s.

Posted by: Lester Burnham | February 12, 2007 3:19 PM

Your reasoning seems to be that if the forecast is bad, whoever is issuing it is therefore hysterical, even if they are ultimately correct. You also seem to suggest that ice is somehow less problematic than snow, when the opposite is usually the case. Steve is correct--an inch of frozen rain would be devastating.

Having said all that, speaking as a transplanted Midwesterner, DC winters are really pretty mild on the whole--people should be allowed to engage in a bit of occasional winter weather hysteria, just to prove we don't live in California.

Posted by: TRM | February 12, 2007 3:30 PM

We can all laugh at Montgomery County being famous for closing school but you have to consider the size of the county and the amount of potential liability that is involved.

I grew up in Jersey and went to a high school that was FAMOUS for being hard nosed about snow days. If there was a foot of snow on the ground and every school in the area closed, mine was open. That is until a bus with 40 kids slid off the road into a ditch on a particularly icy day. The prospect of 40 law suits drove my school to reconsider their policy towards snow days. I'm sure the same mentality is at work in MontCo: Protect your ASSets.

So if there are snow days still available and you are near the end of the season I say use them. It's just not worth it.

How many of us would be on this same blog discussing how reckless the county had acted if there was a severe accident with mulitple injured 2nd graders? Ice is unpredictable stuff, so lets drop the macho attitude.

Snow hysteria is another thing. I think it's a joke. Why so much bread/milk/TP when you likely live within walking distance of a store? I can understand better when you are isolated in the woods 10 miles from a store but come on DC....

Posted by: In defense of school closings | February 12, 2007 3:46 PM

We're all going to die! Oh no, we're all going to die! The evil-doers, the terrorists, the wintry mix, there's just no escape from our impending doooooom!

Posted by: corbett | February 12, 2007 3:51 PM

The article seems to lack the rather basic understanding that an inch of ice, which is or seems to be forecast, is more disruptive to roads and especially power lines than even a half a foot of fluffy snow. But what the heck, it makes for a snarky little story, no matter how devoid of real analysis.

Posted by: PaulSBrowne | February 12, 2007 4:04 PM

I don't like your attitude. If people get to actually benefit from a snow day once every couple of years, so be it! Maybe everyone gets so hysterical because they are really excited about the prospect of getting a well deserved break. Weather hysteria occurs because everyone from school children, to parents, to employers, could all use an extra day off now and then!

Posted by: I don't like your attitude | February 12, 2007 4:19 PM

I think what you're missing here is not the lack of snow, but the very real possibility of ice. I don't know about you all, but I'd rather drive in/thru snow than on top of ice. Even the smallest accumulation of ice will make tomorrow's commute very "un-fun" and dangerous.

Posted by: LV | February 12, 2007 4:29 PM

I graduated from a MOCO highschool in 2001. In my day, there were MANY times they would close school and hardly anything would happen. Then a week or two later we would get a storm and they would send us to school (much to the complaint of many parents saying it was unsafe). Seems like they err on the side of caution nowadays, but I still wouldn't be surprised if MOCO has school tomorrow (even though they closed for nothing last week).

Posted by: Laura | February 12, 2007 4:36 PM

Maybe we can get the kind folks from Oswego to come down and help us clear out the city, I'm sure it'll be a nice reprieve for them.

stop whining (most of) DC.

Posted by: who cares | February 12, 2007 4:51 PM

I grew up in New England and learned how to drive in winter precipitation, as my dad calls it. I took my road test the day after a major snowfall and had to parallel park on packed snow. But if there's the least little bit of anything (snow or ice) on the roads I'll probably work from home. Why? Because I still have back and neck problems from 10 years ago, when a speeding driver in a sleet storm rear-ended my car. When the judge asked him why he was driving over the speed limit during a sleet storm his response was that he had his lights and wipers on and thought he'd be okay.

I'm not proud of what a snow wuss I've become, but I think a little snow hysteria would be a good thing if it kept the morons off the road.

Posted by: College Park Gal | February 12, 2007 4:54 PM

Why is it, that as the storm gets closer and closer and smaller and smaller, the headlines become larger and inch closer to the top of the page? Same phenomenon on the TV news, with "storm force" this or that being the lead story, sometimes at 5:00 in the morning or earlier. They story becomes bigger than the storm itself.

Posted by: Ray | February 12, 2007 4:54 PM

Just remember folks...if the snow comes that means the terrorists win.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 12, 2007 5:04 PM

What a bunch of crybabies! Stop whining.
Just be thankful that you don't live in Oswego, NY where they really have something to complain about in regards to the weather.

Posted by: Stop Whining | February 12, 2007 5:22 PM

I suggest that anyone who complains about how correct or incorrect weather forecasts are actually learn the science behind weather forecasting and actually forecast the weather yourself, if you think that it really is so easy and that they're always wrong because they're stupid. Then maybe you'll gain a bit more respect on what goes into a weather forecast. Media hype notwithstanding, weather forecasting is very difficult.

Posted by: Weather fan | February 12, 2007 5:40 PM

3:46: as much as you'd really like to think so, your new jersey high school really wasn't famous ... hate to break the bad news ...

Posted by: HoyaParanoia | February 12, 2007 5:48 PM

I fully acknowledge weather/weather forecasting is difficult, or, more likely, impossible. That's why it's so maddening to see these news outlets touting their infallible super doppler whatever every time a storm comes along, then botching the forecast, then claiming to have been "the first to bring you news on the big storm".

Posted by: Mike | February 12, 2007 6:05 PM

Marc - You rock!!!!! Moreover, you are right on, as usual. Thanks so mush for your articles!!!

Posted by: DCGAL | February 12, 2007 6:23 PM

There are few things I hate more than DC weather. "Winter storms" consist of rain and sleet, with no snow. Summers are hot and miserable and sweaty. One of the things I hate more than DC weather? The absolutely ridiculous panic that strikes this city every time we get the slightest threat of weather.

It's as if these people have lost their brains. I grew up in a place where regular snowstorms were routine, and where ice was a common problem - in part because the roads would get packed so hard with snow that it would become incredibly slick. I can remember pushing my family's cars up the driveway hill so we could go someplace. And digging out from storms that dropped 3 inches of snow per hour. Here, the media panic just incites stupid behavior - because the predictions for major "storm of the year" weather never lives up to expectations, meaning that people assume they can take their Explorer and zoom down I-66 because clearly, the weather wasn't as bad as it could've been. The stupid thing is, a fair number of these people don't even have 4WD, they bought an SUV with RWD only. And they assume that their driving skills will keep them safe?

So after everyone freaks out, rushes to get home, prepares the kids to be stuck inside for five days, then the response is to just go out and act like idiots. At least in a place like Oswego right now people know how to respond.

Posted by: DC Mike | February 12, 2007 6:23 PM


my bad

Posted by: DCGAL | February 12, 2007 6:24 PM

The MoCo schools may be closed but you can bet the the federal gummit will be open. We'll be sliding through the parkling lots and slipping on the sidewalks, but we'll be open!

Posted by: Whump | February 12, 2007 6:49 PM

Yeah this is pretty much nothing from the viewpoint of someone who grew up in Upstate NY. My father actually works up by Oswego, didn't miss a day of work last week and he drives an Hummer H2. Of course I won't complain if my boss tells me not to come in tomorrow. What does worry me in the idiots who don't respect an icy road. Driving an SUV doesn't mean your invulnerable to an icy road. Some of the worst accidents even up in NY were from idiots in Escalades who thought 4WD means "I can go 80 in a snowstorm". People also need to cut out the tailgating a bit when you can't stop.

Posted by: Cuse Transplant | February 12, 2007 6:54 PM

Any time there is even the slightest hint of inclement weather my husband and I take bets on when the news people will start rolling out "Snow Patrol" or "Storm Force." Every single stinkin' storm, we get to see (1) live coverage of the salt dome things (2) live coverage of the grocery store where we get to interviews with shoppers buying shovels and bread. Then they have anchors all over the city, usually outside, and often standing in an icy, treacherous area next to a car or plow that is stuck or something. The salt dome coverage is the best. They show the same clip EVERY TIME!!

Posted by: kp | February 12, 2007 7:52 PM

Ok, let's be realistic here. C'mon Marc.

1. MoCo closes for good reason. What we see in Bethesda ain't the same as in Damascus. Roads are smaller, hillier and twistier; it's further above sea level, so will be a couple of degrees colder; and much more dependent on school busses, etc.
2. Ice, which is what happens when there are warmer / colder layers, is much more dangerous to drive on than is snow, by significant amounts.
3. Don't compare us to upstate NY or New England. Not only are the drivers much more experienced in those areas, not only is there much less traffic in those areas, but the governments make vast capital investments in snow clearing equipment. Can you see Ike Leggett going to the county council and requesting millions of dollars for extra snow plows & trucks, or the folks in Fairfax going to Richmond and making that request.

Give me a break.

Posted by: Catcher50 | February 12, 2007 7:59 PM

No one gives a damn where you grew up or how much it used to snow there - if you love it so much why don't you move back and do us all a favor.

Posted by: shut up! | February 12, 2007 9:08 PM

shut up! @ 9:08pm: If there were jobs where I grew up, and where I lived before moving down here (Buffalo and Rochester, NY), sure, I'd move back. People are generally better drivers up there. No one exactly grows up wanting to do what I'm doing for a living down here...

As it is, my parents lived in Baltimore until I was 4 -- mom grew up in Buffalo, dad in Baltimore -- and I grew up listening to them laugh at the hysteria over half an inch of snow down here. The last truly big storm to hit Baltimore, was it 5 or six years ago? Dad was visiting a friend down here, and the neighbors looked at him like he was crazy when he started shoveling out a few days later since the plows hadn't come through. Meantime, I grew up in a school district whose superintendent was another hard-liner: every other district in the area would be closed, but not us! Seriously, we didn't get regular snow days until he died.

I really think that things close down here, not because of the weather, but to compensate for people who can't be bothered to learn how to drive in inclement weather -- whether it's a bad rain storm, a little bit of snow, or an ice storm. Well, unless the government closes tomorrow, I'll be at work, no matter what.

Posted by: Baltimore-Buffalo Girl | February 12, 2007 10:34 PM

Marc, what type of vehicle do you have that allows you to drive on ice?

Posted by: FredCo | February 13, 2007 8:03 AM

Effing great.

Montgomery County closed schools EARLY.

Now what the hell am I supposed to do?

They SUCK at this.

They should have opened them two hours late last time and closed them today.

I am SO MAD right now!

Posted by: Anonymous | February 13, 2007 9:48 AM

And here I was going to tell Marc he should give MoCo credit for not closing. If they were going to do that, they should've just wussed out completely.

Posted by: fs | February 13, 2007 10:49 AM

OMG. I saw a drop of water hit the car windshield in the parking lot.

I gotta go - need to get the TP/eggs/milk stocked up, then cue up the Day After Tomorrow video to get some handy hints for survival.

Posted by: SoMD | February 13, 2007 11:22 AM

What stinks is that some of the weather forcasters snickered at the fact that they couldn't accuratly predict this storm. I'm glad they think it's funny.

Posted by: Not funny | February 13, 2007 11:22 AM

Chance of precip hitting Marcs bald head - 100%.

Posted by: Splash | February 13, 2007 12:07 PM

Kudos Splash. It won't stick to Marc's bald head tho - he's a hothead ya know.

Posted by: SoMD | February 13, 2007 1:04 PM

I think it's reasonable to give the Montgomery County school officials one free pass a year when it comes to closing schools due to weather. They used it up on the horrible decision to close schools last week. It's almost as if they were trying to make up /compensate for it by opening on time today.

Freezing rain is more dangerous than snow. Any idiot knows this.

Posted by: Mike O | February 13, 2007 7:48 PM

Know what, this transplant from the Cleveland-area, with his own apocryphal story of the school superintendent who drove a snowplow and was fabled only to close the schools when he couldn't get out of his driveway AND while we kids had no stinkin' buses to take us to school, LOVES the easy declarations of snowdays. Didn't know I moved 8 years ago to such a type-A region that it's so hardcore to go into work no matter what. Hey, think about it: a free morning where you can get a leisurely cup of coffee and maybe make some french toast at your own pace. Is that so neutering?

With that said, I'd trade a foot of snow for an inch of ice any day. Getting cavalier about that no matter where you grew up is pretty damn stupid, no matter how goofy the news may get (and surprise, surprise - local newscasts are somewhat sensational? I'll be damned!)

Posted by: Snow or ice | February 14, 2007 12:55 AM

Washingtonians are the BIGGEST whiners on the planet! Gimme a break. So you had to spend a day with your kids because school was closed! Good grief! News flash...Weather forecasting is not a precise science. Neither is playing the stock market or knowing what the Redskins will do from week to week. If you don't like the weather in the D.C. area, I suggest you find I-95 and head south!

Posted by: Brian | February 15, 2007 11:06 PM

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