Reports from the Front Lines of “Snowmageddon”

Megan McArdle summarizes the post-“snowmageddon” state of Washington, DC, which isn’t good:

You will probably have noticed that I did not post this morning. That’s because sometime before 8 am, I decided that I should get to the grocery store and pick up my lung medicine in the hiatus between snows.

Four hours later, I returned with a trunk full of whatever could be scavenged from the grocery store shelves. You have never seen a city as completely incompetent at dealing with snow as Washington DC.

I mean, two feet of snow is inconvenient anywhere. But in DC, only the main streets have been plowed. And by “plowed”, I mean that one meager lane has been cleared, so that even major arteries like New York Avenue frequently narrow to one lane. The side streets have been turned into defacto one-way streets–except that no one knows which way. The result is a lot like driving on a country road in Ireland, where you are apt to come upon someone going the other way, and then spend precious moments staring at each other until one party reluctantly backs up to a wider spot.

In fairness, a jurisdiction that gets massive snowstorms as rarely as DC can’t be as well-prepared for them as a northern city. If it was, that would be a sign that DC authorities have invested too many resources in snowstorm preparation. That said, things are a lot better where I am in northern Virginia. Until the second round of snow began tonight, the main roads were completely cleaned, and I was able to drive out to buy last minute supplies in Arlington and Falls Church with minimum trouble. Our own street (a small side street) was only just barely driveable, but still could be used. Much of the difference between DC and Virginia is probably attributable to DC’s famously incompetent municipal government. I’m very glad that I “voted with my feet” against them when I first moved to the region.

Megan also describes major shortages in DC stores. Again, things seem to be less bad in Northern Virginia. We were able to buy many things in Whole Foods and Safeway yesterday and today, though only Trader Joe’s had salad greens available. After searching several stores, I was even able to restock my supply of ice-melting salt at Bed, Bath & Beyond, which had a large supply. Apparently, many Virginians don’t realize that you can buy such supplies there.

We did have an interesting adventure trying to purchase ice-melting salt at Home Depot earlier. The salesperson there said they were all out, but advised us to come back Wednesday morning when they expect to get a new shipment in. I pointed out that another major snowstorm will be raging at that time, and asked if I might be able to come back on Thursday. He said the new supply would probably be exhausted by then. If they expect the new shipment to be exhausted that quickly, why not simply order more to begin with? The Bed, Bath & Beyond people told me that they got a new shipment in this afternoon, which leads me to wonder why Home Depot couldn’t get equally prompt suppliers.

Ultimately, however, it’s understandable that businesses, consumers, and local governments would make mistakes in reacting to such a rare event. At least in Virginia, things haven’t been as bad as I might have expected. Of course, I may change my mind once I get down to the work of scheduling makeup sessions for all the classes I had canceled this week….

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