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HysteriaWatch: The Ice Cometh, Sort Of

Here I was, all ready to heap rare praise on the superintendents of schools in Montgomery and Fairfax counties, which went right ahead and opened school today even though there was all sorts of chatter in the news media about a nasty mess coming our way.

And in fact, those wise decisions were affirmed by the mild and unimpressive nature of the "storm" that hit this morning, leaving area streets with just a slight dusting of slush.

But now a new wave of moderate weather hype is washing over the region, with the dreaded I-word dominating the midday headlines: Ice. So most of the major school systems in the area are now closing early, throwing a wrench into the otherwise smooth workdays of many thousands of parents.

The Hysteria Rating for today is a mere 4 overall, with most media outlets backing off from earlier dire predictions of a major winter storm, replacing most talk of snow with increasingly urgent warnings about Washington's winter specialty, the wintry mix that ends with a lovely iceover.

"A real mess is on the way," Channel 9 tells us. But all talk of accumulation of snow is pretty much yesterday's news.

Channel 4 is predicting a "very slippery" evening rush hour with Pepco spokesman Bob Dobkin alerting us that he'd prefer 15 inches of snow to one inch of ice.

Channel 7 wins the Calmed Nerves Award for reporting that "we're really in a lull right now" and that "road crews came out early and really got on top of it," as reporter Natasha Barrett noted from Leesburg.

By Marc Fisher |  February 13, 2007; 12:42 PM ET
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Ice is nice. Keeps the beer cold and works great with scotch too.

Posted by: SoMD | February 13, 2007 1:03 PM

I hope the Maryland state road crews are on top of things this time.

Posted by: Driver | February 13, 2007 1:05 PM

So Marc, what you are telling us is we should take what the TV news talking heads say with a grain of salt?

Good advice. Not just for the weather tho. For anything they say.

Posted by: SoMD | February 13, 2007 1:06 PM

This ice storm is probably Marc's Valentine gift to his wife.

Posted by: Ba Humbug | February 13, 2007 1:11 PM

OPM's letting gummit workers out at 2:00pm! Woo-Hoo!

Posted by: Vrooom | February 13, 2007 1:36 PM

Gummit employees are on the road?!?!!? Everybody stay off the sidewalks!!!

I'm staying put until the wreckage is cleared.

Posted by: SoMD | February 13, 2007 1:41 PM

Get the hell out of my way!

Posted by: Gummit Worker | February 13, 2007 1:50 PM

I think Marc's pony is coming up lame. Ride that pony, Marc! Whip it!

Posted by: mark | February 13, 2007 2:28 PM

I was just outside to grab a sandwich and it is already incredibly slick on the roads so I hate to say it, but I think it's only going to get worse. It's pretty hard to drive on ice and I would tend to agree with officials' decisions to close. But, being from the midwest, I don't think schools should EVER close for snow.

Posted by: Whatever | February 13, 2007 2:46 PM

What is the scale on the HysterioMeter? Is 5 the top rating, or a 10?

Posted by: Bemused | February 13, 2007 2:57 PM

I was out on the streets all day today. Things were better at 2:30 than they were at noon - so closing early doesn't make sense.

Posted by: Alice | February 13, 2007 3:40 PM

In upstate New York, they are laughing at us.

Posted by: Bob | February 13, 2007 3:48 PM

For newbies to Washington, they complain about the people going crazy when it snows.

To be an old timer, you need to complain about the people complaining about the people going crazy when it snows.

So write about something else. This is getting old.

Posted by: Bob | February 13, 2007 3:49 PM

Upstate New York is indeed laughing at us (I'm from there).

And the hysteria over just about any snow prediction is over the top (particularly since the local forecasters regularly are wrong about the magnitude and things are lamer than predicted).

But ice is worth being worried about.

Except that it does happen at least annually and you think the natives would figure it out. They don't take ice lightly in Upstate New York either, but they deal with it, and it takes quite a bit shut down because of it.

So long as most Washingtonians (and mostly their suburban peers) can't handle ice, it is worth worrying about. It's the other people, not so much the ice, that is the danger.

Posted by: mjb | February 13, 2007 3:58 PM

I'm from upstate NY too (born and raised), and I'm so tired of our (many) ex-patriots who live in the D.C. area complaining about how snow is handled sooo much better there. Yes, we get it. They handle winter weather perfectly, we handle it like a bunch of incompentent fools. I would just like to point out how many FORMER upstate NY'ers there are around these parts. If "outstanding snow handling" was really so high on our list of priorities, wouldn't we all still be living there?

Posted by: Ugh | February 13, 2007 4:05 PM

Word is, it's supposed to get colder than Anna Nicole Smith overnight.

Posted by: War_Money | February 13, 2007 4:09 PM


DC is such a sleepy southern town and this hysteria over snow proves it.

Posted by: Yankee | February 13, 2007 4:12 PM

The sidewalks are icing up pretty badly here in midtown (4:15pm), which means at home in Georgetown it's going be an ice rink.

For once the hysteria is grounded on fact.

Posted by: Georgetowner | February 13, 2007 4:19 PM

A little ice on the sidewalk is not going to kill you, Georgetowner.

Posted by: Yankee | February 13, 2007 4:29 PM

Yeah, it's all those other Georgetowners who don't know how to drive on ice that will get you.

Posted by: AnotherYankee | February 13, 2007 4:43 PM

Put on your old Vanilla Ice CDs and sing along:

Ice, Ice, Baby.

Posted by: Mister Methane | February 13, 2007 4:46 PM

I'll take today's weather over that 10 degree stuff from last week ANY DAY.

Posted by: mcmc | February 13, 2007 5:33 PM

Mark, it's columns like this, and smug attitude like this that makes me want to stop reading anything you write. For many of us who commute long distances, who have to use public transportation other than Metro (and therefore we have less time flexibility), and who have children in schools, this is not hysteria, it's simply a matter of giving us enough information to plan our crazy lives. Thanks for alienating another reader. And just so you know, even though I am from the South, this is nothing compared to the ice storms I grew up with.

Posted by: Henry | February 13, 2007 5:52 PM

I'm sort of confused about which news broadcasts you were watching last week that were hyping a major snow event. I heard them say there was POTENTIAL for a major snow event, and in my experience as an area native , that was certainly true. But by Friday, they were all saying it would be more rain/ice than snow in the DC area.

What is different is that the "local" weather broadcasts now cover towns in West Virgnia, northern Maryland and Pennsylvania. That means that they're giving predictions for much colder areas, and you have to listen carefully to realize that the snow is for Hagerstown, not the DC area.

Posted by: GJ | February 13, 2007 6:00 PM

My sister in the NY snow war zone laughs, but I am glad we left when we did. It really did get fairly treacherous on the ridiculously long ride home.

As for Mark's columns- you're right, and very entertaining, my friend. Even still, snow and ice give us a chance to be like kids again, hoping for a snow day. People get indignant about our approach to the weather, but if anything, this is another part of the local culture, and I embrace it like a family in Oswego, NY embraces their ruddy, calloused faces.

Posted by: Kevin | February 13, 2007 6:03 PM

A major coronary and croaks breaking up and shoveling ice tomorrow. Good riddance to this pest. If Marc was a sheep he would have gone to the stockyards long ago to become dog food. Cant you find a new gimmick for your columns Marc! Its getting old bubba.

Posted by: Hope Marc has... | February 13, 2007 6:28 PM

Thank you, Ugh. My sentiments precisely. I grew up in Cleveland, where even though the natives knew something about snow, they'd still mercilessly skewer the local government for screwing up the snow removal. Oh, and talk about hype--what do you do when half of your school system is subject to lake-effect snow? I grew up on the West side and had many a "snow day" without a flake on the ground--as the east side got socked with a foot of snow.

Marc, if the WaPo ever lets you go, you could probably find work being a curmudgeon at the Cleveland Plain Dealer!

Posted by: Silver Spring | February 13, 2007 6:33 PM

I did some last-minute Valentine's Day shopping after we got out at 2:00 and basically had the stores of Friendship Heights to myself. I was surprised. Really, it was not that bad, shoppers! It would take more than a little sleet to keep me from Neiman Marcus.

(Actually, N-M and Saks Men both closed early b/c of the weather. Luckily I got there in time.)

Posted by: PQ | February 13, 2007 6:50 PM

Hope Marc has..., in order to have a major coronary, one has to have a heart. Think about it.

Posted by: Reasoning | February 13, 2007 7:54 PM

I live at the bottom of a valley, with curving roads leading to the entrance to my apartment complex. I challenge Marc to drive on those roads when they're iced over.

Posted by: Amy | February 13, 2007 10:48 PM

Never ruin single-malt scotch with ice!! Blends, maybe, but single malt, never!!

Posted by: Dave | February 14, 2007 9:51 AM

"Ex-patriots," presumably, are people who used to support their country but have stopped. People who are living away from their homeland are expatriates.

Posted by: someone who moved | February 14, 2007 10:17 AM

Keep up the noble fight, Marc. Washington weather hysteria is a classic example of the dumbing down of language. In this case, "inconvenience" has somehow morphed into "paralysis." For those of you who chose to buy homes in the outer exurbs, what did you expect? So you saved a hundred grand on your home, but it also means you need to burn some leave when the area gets hit with a rare episode of bad weather.

Posted by: Paul | February 14, 2007 1:32 PM

...then there are those of us who can't afford the high rent charged for the few tiny apartments built near metro stations. We get lumped in with the people who buy McMansions in exurbia as "people who deserve nothing but scorn."

FYI I went to work today, and slogged uphill through unshoveled walks to an unshoveled bus stop and waited for the not-anywhere-near-scheduled-time bus to arrive.

Posted by: Amy | February 14, 2007 1:51 PM

So Amy, on one workday out of 250 you experienced some difficulty getting to work. Put yourself in for a medal.

Posted by: Paul | February 14, 2007 2:27 PM

Hey Paul, why don't you put yourself in for a*hole of the year.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 15, 2007 7:21 PM

"FYI I went to work today, and slogged uphill through unshoveled walks to an unshoveled bus stop and waited for the not-anywhere-near-scheduled-time bus to arrive."

Now that's real sacrifice! All of our troops in Iraq salute you miss!

Posted by: Anonymous | February 15, 2007 10:31 PM

so, how about all those people injured on the ice over the last 4 days Marc. Also, over 40 windshields busted up and people injured over the ice you advocate leaving on top of your roof because it is fun to watch it slide off. Tool.

Posted by: dc | February 17, 2007 9:54 AM

so, how about all those people injured on the ice over the last 4 days Marc. Also, over 40 windshields busted up and people injured over the ice you advocate leaving on top of your roof because it is fun to watch it slide off. Tool.

Posted by: dc | February 17, 2007 9:55 AM

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