As the country watches Hurricane Isaac’s massive spiral head straight for the Gulf Coast, we are all experiencing post-traumatic symptoms of Katrina, which, seven years ago today, was heading for the same target. But I’m also remembering a severe weather event that hit closer to home (for me) somewhat more recently: Snowpocalypse, followed by Snowmageddon, followed by Snoverkill. The three storms hit DC during the winter of 2009-2010, dumping a combined 55 to 72 inches of snow on the area (depending which airport you measure from).
I’m not comparing Isaac’s capacity for devastation to these snowstorms, but I do wonder if there are some comparisons.
That winter, I was working at WTOP, the DC area’s news/traffic/weather radio station. We were working overtime and much of the staff was sleeping at a nearby hotel to ensure they could get to the newsroom. (Most of them commuted in from surprisingly distant suburbs.) One of the more significant tasks we were assigned was fielding calls from people whose power was out. Dedicated to holding the utilities accountable, WTOP reporters tracked the places where the companies hadn’t yet gotten the power back up and aired the grievances of the people affected.
Those people were out of patience. They called in from the farthest reaches of the region, irate that they were stuck in their homes, two feet of snow blocking their driveways, with no heat and no light and an indoor temperature hovering around 45 degrees. They felt abandoned and vulnerable. I felt for them – but I also couldn’t help but notice how our different choices left us in very different situations.
I was living in a small apartment in Adams Morgan, a central neighborhood in DC with buried power lines. (Although calls to bury above-ground power lines recently hit a fever pitch in DC, 65 percent of the city’s lines actually are underground – mostly in downtown areas.) As a result, our power never went out.
We didn’t have a car, so there was nothing to dig out. I just tucked my rain pants into my boots and trekked around, and when I wasn’t staying at the hotel near the newsroom I would walk the three miles to work since bus service was limited (i.e. for days after the storms, buses wouldn’t go up big hills).