Snowzilla: The Birthday Blizzard

IMG_20160122_230216By the time I moved to DC in August 2010, I was done with winter. It’s funny, the winter of 2009–2010, one that brought Snowmaggedon to the DC metro area, wasn’t even that bad in Massachusetts. But after six years of New England winter, I couldn’t take another nine-month stretch of cold weather.

In retrospect, I grew up in an endless summer. I thought we had seasons in North Florida, but I had a limited reference point for understanding real seasonal changes. I knew moving to Massachusetts for college would give me a winter experience like I literally never had before. But I’m from a family of Floridians, I had no idea what that meant. I was pretty helpless those first few months up north. I had no idea that I didn’t own enough socks. I had no understanding of correct layering techniques. I didn’t even fully grasp that snow was wet.

My first real snowstorm of my first real winter was this one. It started fast and furious on January 22, a very memorable date since it also happened to be my 19th birthday. I remember being nervous and scared as the cloud ceiling dropped so low that I could almost touch it – and then the first snowflakes began to fall. We planned ahead and managed to get Chinese takeout before the snow and one of my more enterprising friends scored giant tubs of ice cream from Usdan’s cafeteria. My friends and I hunkered down together in the Cable 2 lounge and when more than a foot of snow had fallen, we ventured outside for a snowball fight and my first snow angel.

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My first snow angel in 2005.

So much snow fell that night, and at the time, I thought that was the norm for winter storms in New England. Since 2005, I’ve seen a lot of snowstorms, including one in winter 2008-2009 that lasted for at least three days, but my first one still holds the record for the most snow at one time.

My Birthday Blizzard didn’t end up ruining my 19th birthday, but it did set the stage for my ambivalent relationship with snow. Before I moved up north, I thought everything closed down for snow. That’s what my camp friends in Georgia told me, so that’s what I was expecting. I had no idea I’d foolishly moved too far north for snow days until I was already neck deep in snow banks.

I didn’t realize I was done with winter and snow until I was on the verge of leaving Massachusetts. I must have had a subconscious feeling it was time to go when I began applying mostly to graduate schools in the southeast, but I think I was in a state of denial. How could I want to leave a place I loved? Right up until I flew to DC to look at American University and George Washington University in the spring of 2010, I really believed I would end up going to Boston University. The morning I walked from my cousin’s place in McLean Gardens to AU’s campus I sensed that this was it. This city, one I hadn’t visited since I was 10 years old, was going to be my new home.

My first DC winter wasn’t mild, we even had an epic bout of thundersnow, but I was so happy to be someplace even a little bit more temperate. It was such a relief to finally be further south.

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The normally bustling Columbia Heights is empty.

Some people would call me crazy for this, but I kind of love the weather in the mid-Atlantic. The summer smells like Florida, the fall is beautiful and has Technicolor leaves, the spring is filled with the vibrant pinks and whites of cherry blossoms, and the winter…well, I still don’t like winter, but here, at least, the bone-chilling cold days are few and far between. Best of all, we aren’t above the snow day line. When the threat of snow is on the horizon, the entire city freaks out and shuts down. Just like me.

DC is the worst at weather and it’s led to me developing something of an obsession with it over the past few years. I normally start my days reading Capital Weather Gang’s latest post. I religiously watch Storm Team 4 during NBC’s 6:00 and 11:00 pm newscasts. I’ve even come to love the hype and anticipation that follows any prediction of a big snow storm for our region.

Normally, I would be overjoyed by a model run forecasting a storm like Snowzilla, but not this time. At the end of the day, I’m always going to be a Florida girl, and it just doesn’t seem right that once again a big, giant blizzard was coming to my city on January 22. I had no interest in Birthday Blizzard Part Deux.

I haven’t been this resistant to the idea of snow since I moved here. I went through all the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, by the time the evening of January 21 rolled around, I’d transcended to acceptance.

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Braving the storm to help me celebrate my birthday.

One bright spot as the storm closed in on us: my family’s birthday present to me, a GoPro Hero4 Silver (← affiliate link ahoy!), somehow managed to arrive ahead of schedule and was in my possession before the start of the storm. I asked for the GoPro in an effort to up my nature photography game, but a historic Birthday Blizzard turned out to be an unexpected and awesome way to break in my new camera.

DC, as usual, started the storm by going crazy and making runs on food and other things. I spent that time shuffling around my birthday plans. As the snow began dropping its first flakes in the District at 12:30 pm on January 22, I was on my way to The Coupe for lunch with friends who braved the dire weather forecasts to hang out with me for a few hours.

The snow started off very calm, and even with all of the weather models in agreement, I kind of wondered if this one would bust like Snowquester in 2013. By the time my first wave of friends were taking off to head back to the ‘burbs at 4:00 pm, the snow had picked up a lot – covering 11th Street for the first time since we arrived.

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Standing in 16th Street without getting hit by a car.

At 5:00 pm, we transitioned over to Meridian Pint where several more brave souls came out to toast my 30th. The restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived, but by the time we called it quits at 8:00 pm, the place was packed. Apparently, all the cool people go out drinking during blizzards.

Out on the street, the snow was coming down fast, but the scene was serene. The wind wasn’t terrible, the streets were empty, and everything felt peaceful. The only cars on the streets as we walked through Columbia Heights were cop cars and other first responder vehicles. Only a handful of other people were out walking.

When I woke up a little before 8:00 am, one foot of snow was on the ground – an incredible amount for this region. According to news reports, we also had thundersnow at 6:00 am, but sadly, I slept through this awesome natural phenomenon. Even with the heavy snow, the winds were still calm and the storm didn’t seem very threatening.

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They’re not seeing that car for awhile.

I used the downtime to dig around and find my snow pants (which were last worn in 2006), in the hopes that I could go out soon to stomp in the snow. Good thing I controlled the impulse to go outside. Around 2:00 pm, conditions deteriorated. The winds turned gusty and we were treated to whiteout conditions – Snowzilla was well on the way to officially meet blizzard qualifications.

It’s funny, in a normal weekend, I have no problem staying indoors for hours on end. It’s no secret that I love walking insane distances and making my way up mountains, but I also really, really enjoy lazing around on my bottom with nowhere to go. But the minute I’m told I have to stay inside for my safety, all I want to do is go out and frolic in snow and ruin things for the snowplows and shovelers.

By 6:00 pm, my roommate, Kim, and I were through with being cooped up. The winds and snow seemed to be slowing down a bit and we were determined to go outside. Armed with our snow gear and the GoPro, we headed out into the streets of our neighborhood. Snow was pelting us at a decent clip and I felt like I was getting ice in my eyeballs. The streets were nearly empty of vehicles and there were only a few other people roaming this part of the District with us.

In the midst of what felt like an epic trek, I looked over and saw someone doing a hardcore workout at Fitness 360. I enjoy exercise as much as the next person, but going out to the gym in a blizzard seems like taking the “no excuses” motto a little too far.

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An eerie Mt. Pleasant.

We wandered around a snowbound Mt. Pleasant eventually finding our way to Purple Patch. Although we didn’t walk very far, both of us were exhausted and dehydrated by the time we sat down in the restaurant. I think the effort of keeping warm plus trekking through snow drifts up to mid-calf/knee plus the wind driving against us was a lot of strain on our bodies. It put some perspective on why it’s a bad idea to undertake a huge outing in the middle of a storm like this one.

After 36 hours and a disputed snow total, Snowzilla finally came to an end in our region around midnight. By noon on Sunday, Kim, our friend Tami, and I were off on an outing to Meridian Hill Park. One of two “official” sites for city-wide snowball fights, it felt like the entire neighborhood was walking with us in the middle of 16th Street toward the park.

Meridian Hill Park is one of the most unique and picturesque spots in DC. If you’ve never seen it, it’s laid out in three levels: upper-level mall, mid-level giant fountain, and lower-level garden. We entered the park at the mall level and were immediately greeted by the sight of hundreds of people, some of them in costume, lobbing snowballs at each other.

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Snowball fighters in Meridian Hill Park.

At the south side of the mall is an epic overlook of the centerpiece of the park: a multi-tiered fountain that holds the title of “largest cascading fountain in North America.” Winding on either side of the overlook are long staircases, which were converted into sledding zones. We spent some time watching people slide down on makeshift sleds, narrowly missing the stone walls lining the stairs. We thought we might see someone die or puncture a vital organ, so we had to move on.

We bypassed the stairs by carefully navigating along the sides of the park to reach the middle level. The fountain was completely filled with snow and looked like a fluffy staircase for giants. We did the only logical thing – we hopped into the fountain and scooted (literally) our way down to the bottom of the park.

Unbeknownst to me, my snow boots had lost most of their waterproofing between last winter and this one, and I could feel snow seeping inside my shoes and soaking through my socks. It’s never a good idea to be out and about in wet clothing in winter, so we made our way back home. However, it would have been wrong to end our winter outing without some hot chocolate. We remedied the situation by detouring to 18th Street for a quick pit stop at Tryst. My Mexican hot chocolate was the best reward for wading through all the snow.

This isn’t the 30th birthday I thought I would have. Even with a January birth date, I never thought I would have to contend with a second Birthday Blizzard – much less having one of DC’s top five snowstorms of all time land on my milestone celebration. Despite everything, I think this birthday still turned out to be a pretty good one!

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Snowzilla: The Birthday Blizzard

  1. “In retrospect, I grew up in an endless summer.” – I know this sentiment well. I couldn’t imagine living in a city that didn’t freak out for snow. Great piece, wonderful writing. Birthday Blizzard success!

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    • Thank you! I was sad I didn’t get to spend part of this Birthday Blizzard with you but was thrilled that you made it out before the airport closed. Did you get back to DC or are you still down south?

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  2. Pingback: The Joy of Seasons | City to Trail

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