This historic blizzard reminded me of the January 1966 storm that also shut down the region. As young college graduates in our first Capitol Hill jobs, my roommate and I rode the AB&W bus (this was pre-Metro) from Old Town Alexandria every day. During the storm, the bus drivers stopped at King Street, cognizant that they risked becoming stuck if they ventured further south. The walk in the blizzard down the middle of Washington Street to our little apartment was surreal – no traffic, just a few stalwarts trudging homeward. It also was my first experience with a run on grocery stores. The little neighborhood market looked like a locust plague had passed – no milk, no eggs, no bread. We bought the last package of Brown ‘n Serve rolls on the shelf, and rushed home with our treasure.
In that storm, before the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Water Act, etc., snow was loaded onto dump trucks, which went to the no-longer-used, but still standing, old 14th Street bridge deck, and dumped the snow onto the frozen Potomac River below. When the thaw came, it was curious, and a bit bizarre, to watch the snow mountains float freely down the Potomac.
Decades later, the region is dealing with the probable after-effects of such former practices. Who knows what was in the snow dumped into the river – road salts, oil, antifreeze, rubble, sediment – the corrosive and damaging elements that made the Potomac unfishable and unswimmable at the time, and contributed to the decline of the Chesapeake Bay and its fisheries that local governments face today. It will be interesting to judge the after-effects of this blizzard on the Bay report card issued annually by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Major weather events can sabotage the restoration activities for the Bay and its tributaries, which include local streams and waterways.
In the midst of the storm cleanup, there were lots of friendly efforts to help get back to normal. A neighbor and his son dug out their driveway, and then cleared a path down a steep hill to dig out a neighbor’s driveway and cars. Fortunately, strong sunshine and clear skies brightened the task, and black pavement was soon uncovered. Postal deliveries in some Mason District neighborhoods will be difficult due to snow piled high on VDOT rights-of-way, blocking mail boxes.
Kudos to the plow jockeys who worked tirelessly through the storm, and after, to make roadways passable. One can only imagine the challenges facing plow drivers during a storm like this one. Equipment breakdowns, and exhaustion, were not unusual. Humvees from the National Guard were brought in to aid public safety personnel in responding to calls for service. A special thank you also to the folks who staffed the county’s Emergency Operations Center. Long shifts and sleeping on cots or the floor were de rigeur for those assigned.
On this bright, sunny day, it looks like the snow overhang actually may melt before it crashes!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]