OUR VIEW | Extraordinary measures in no ordinary time


“Snowpocalypse” and “Washington wimps” have been just a couple of buzz terms permeating the region over the past week, which is no surprise, because this series of snow storms is one for the books. When a blizzard like this past week’s hits Alexandria, it comes with novel enchantment for some the students who get to miss a week of school, the transplants that have flocked here from more powdery locales and those headed to the slopes, for instance.

Unfortunately, what is a nice change to some is a hindrance to others the homeless family, the elderly and disabled population, a family unable to pay its heating bill and can be life-threatening in some cases. While much of the region has shut down and idled since the storms began last Friday, the city’s relief forces and social safety net have gone into overdrive.

Organizations like Senior Services of Alexandria delivered meals to 95 elderly residents during the brief hiatus between the storms on Tuesday, with help from the Sheriff’s Department. Volunteer Alexandria’s Snow Buddies program, comprised of shovel-toting volunteers, was effective during the December snowstorm and continued to donate their time to dig out residents in need during the recent blizzard. The Carpenter’s Shelter has risen to the occasion as well, as have many other organizations whose mission is aiding residents with their time and service. The city opened up the Charles Houston Recreation Center as a warming shelter, for instance. All of these organizations should be commended for their work.

At a time when residents’ quality of life is disrupted by a rare and uncontrollable instance like this, it is easy to complain about an unplowed road or poor conditions around the city. But it is undeniable that, for this region, a storm of such magnitude is the exception and not the rule, so its handling is reactive by default. City workers, from snow plow drivers to the fire chief to the city manager, endure long, 12-plus-hour shifts to mitigate damage and threats to public safety. They, too, should be commended for their work during the state of emergency even if it may not be evident from your cul-de-sac. 

If this were Chicago, for instance, the infrastructure and protocol for such a storm would be second nature rather than third or fourth nature as it is here. The city’s snow storm budget has been spent and money will come out of reserves to keep residents as safe as possible. The past week of snow has made this winter the snowiest ever in Washington, according to the National Weather Service, which uses Reagan National Airport as its measuring point. Last Friday and Saturday alone, central Alexandria received about 29 inches of snow about 10 more than the airport received over the same period.

In short, this is no ordinary event for the city, making those who have stepped up whether it is their job to do so or out of pure kindness and compassion extraordinary.