Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
This past Monday folks here on the north-eastern seaboard of the United States discovered that it really is winter. The realization came from temperatures changing from 60 degrees on Sunday to 30 degrees on Monday. Accompanied by our first snow of the season, a whopping nine inches in my neighborhood.
Nine inches doesn’t seem like all that much snow, compared to what I’ve experienced even since living here in Northern Virginia. But, perhaps because we’ve had almost no snow for the past couple of winters, people forgot that snow happens. This past Monday, going into Tuesday and Wednesday, the great snowpocalypse of 2022 shut down a major interstate highways and dumped power for thousands of people in my area.
And this is only January. We have lots of time for a Snowpocalypse Part II, and more…
Prelude to a Storm
So Sunday Winnie and I were working in our backyard doing some still-moving-in stuff. It was a lovely 60 degrees, sunny, and we weren’t even wearing jackets. The weather felt like an early spring day. I had been reading about an approaching winter storm, but my reading didn’t track with my real world experience.
We went to bed that night with outside temps still in the 50s. Monday morning I woke up about 5:30 to outside temps down about 30 and snowing hard. We already had several inches accumulation, which was more snow than I’ve seen for the past couple of years. Total. I tucked into my home office with hot tea and started working, thankful that I didn’t have to commute. Then I found out all government offices were closing for the day.
The Gathering Storm
Snow is normal for this region, abet not like further north in the New England or Upper Midwest regions. Still, I expected that we (Northern Virginia) could handle a few inches.
Later in the morning my power started dropping off and on. Not a big deal for my office laptop, but my home computer is a desktop with no battery backup. My neighborhood, being built up back in mid-1950s, has all above-ground power lines. Losing power is considered “normal” here in bad weather; with “bad weather” being loosely defined as anytime it’s not a bright sunny windless day. After a couple of power drops I shut down all electronics in the house and let my virtual office-mates know I’d be offline for a while.
Power stabilized by mid afternoon, snow stopped coming down and the world seemed to be smiling. I got outside and acquired my daily exercise by shoveling out the driveway and cars, with Winnie’s enthusiastic help. Snowplows had already been through our street several times and cars were cautiously moving around. To all outward appearances the storm was over. In truth, it was just starting.
The Storm Hits Where it Hurts
Later that evening I began to pick up news that traffic was snarled on I-95, which bisects my town and largely defines this part of Northern Virginia. Given that traffic on I-95 is normally snarled on a good day, I didn’t give the news much consideration. Power had been stable for hours, so I figured we wouldn’t have any more problems.
At 5:30 the next morning we received a panicked call from my cousin who lives across town. She told us her house and her moms house, my aunt, had no power for most of the night and they were cold. Before she finished talking I interrupted and told her to get over to our house. My cousin explained her entire area (which had underground services) was without power.
They live about one mile from our former home, which is not yet sold so still our worry. I got dressed, grabbed my snow shovel and some tea to go, and drove over to our former home. Power was on in that neighborhood, so I spent a few minutes digging out the driveway and came back. Part of my drive had me crossing over I-95, and as I crossed I saw traffic stopped and backed up on the south bound lane. The northbound lane was empty. Seeing traffic on I-95 stopped was fairly normal, but an empty highway indicated big problems.
I returned home to find my cousin, her boyfriend, and my aunt had all made it over safely. From my cousin and her boyfriend I learned that I-95 had been shut down south of us the entire night. I checked the news and started reading horror stories.
We Have a Problem
I learned I-95 had been shut down since late afternoon the previous day. Motorists had been stuck in their cars/trucks for up to 17 hours and nothing was getting better. One stuck driver was none other than our Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), who had left Richmond driving to Washington the previous evening. I couldn’t help perversely feeling him getting stuck was a good thing – it meant someone would be held responsible for fucking up traffic management this badly.
My aunt warmed up and told us about losing power earlier. I got up on “Nextdoor” and started reading about people all around the area who had no power for as long as 12 hours. Most impacted areas seemed to be south of us, around Stafford and Fredericksburg. Since we had power, I logged into work and checked on my colleagues. Later that morning I heard from one of my colleagues living in Maryland that her house had been without power all night.
My aunt and cousin did get power back on later Tuesday morning and went back home.
Not Getting Better
I kept my radio on as I worked that morning and followed news about the I-95 shutdown. News didn’t get any better until late that afternoon. Once before, about 2010, we had a section of I-95 shutdown for about 17 hours when an unexpected late afternoon ice storm hit (I just barely missed getting stuck in that). But I’d never heard of an interstate shut down for over 24 hours due to a relatively routine snowstorm.
Power outage reports continued to come in all day via “Nextdoor,” and I considered Winnie and me blessed for not having to deal with this.
I-95 finally got cleared up and traffic moving later Tuesday afternoon. Amazingly, the Virginia National Guard was never deployed to help stranded motorists. Local folks took it upon themselves to help out by providing food and water to stranded motorists, and trying to clear sections of the highway. Our Governor Ralph Northam was already getting hammered for how this mess ever happened and just who the fuck was supposed to be in charge! I’m sure we’ll hear more about this in the weeks to come.
Power Still Out
Meanwhile, power was still out in a number of areas all the way through Wednesday night, three days after the storm hit. My colleague had already moved her family in with their in-laws a couple of hours away, and got power back on at their home late Wednesday. Reports from “Nextdoor” indicated some people went as long as 52 hours without power. Given that each night (Monday and Tuesday) temps were down in the teens and 20s, I suspect local plumbers will be replacing lots of broken water pipes over the next few weeks.
I feel a need to make some personal observations on this week’s events. Here in Northern Virginia, within a 100 mile radius of our nation’s capital, a snowstorm within bounds of “normal” for this region shut down a major interstate highway for 27 hours, and dumped electrical power for tens of thousands of people for up to 52 hours. No one seems to be responsible.
This happened within days of the one-year “anniversary” of the trump-instigated attack on our nation’s capital building, as means of overturning the 2020 election results. No one important has yet to go to jail over this attempted coup. At the same time, our congress is deadlocked from passing any meaningful bills to help Americans because all Republicans (and one democrat) are refusing to do their fucking jobs. Roving bands of heavily-armed assholes pretending to be militias are making life miserable for anyone not them, without any seeming consequences.
Last week one astute writer I follow asked this question:
Have we reached the point where the nation is simply too corrupt to function?Hunter, Daily Kos Staff
I think this is a fair question. I’m not sure I want to know the answer.