Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
A late winter snow storm is blanketing the Washington region with a mix of snow and rain. Schools are out. Government workers are staying at home. And power companies are bracing for the possibility of downed trees and power failures. We get an update on how the region is faring thus far.
- Ken Barker Vice President of Customer Solutions, Dominion Virginia Power
- Armando Trull Senior News Reporter, WAMU 88.5
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, D.C. hoops history from high school gyms to playground courts. We explore Washington's history through basketball. But, first, March weather madness. A late winter snowstorm is blanketing the Washington region with a mix of snow and rain. Schools are out. Most government workers are staying at home, the roads, mostly empty.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIPower companies are bracing for the possibility of downed trees and power failures. And one man, WAMU's man-about-town is crisscrossing our region, heading at least six different locations by our count, from BWI Airport to Georgetown. That man is Armando Trull who joins us on the line. We'll also be getting an update from Dominion Power about outages in the Commonwealth of Virginia. But first, Armando Trull, thank you for joining us.
MR. ARMANDO TRULLIt's a pleasure, Kojo, and I'm actually in Old Town Alexandria. I'm at the harbor, and I'm standing on the balcony of a two-level boathouse on the harbor. It's the Alexandria Seaport Foundation. And let me tell you, this boathouse is rocking and rolling this morning because the Potomac is very, very, very wild. I see a lot of whitecaps right in front of me.
MR. ARMANDO TRULLI cannot see National Harbor because of just the intensity of the fog and some of the snow and rain. And, right now, this has oscillated between snow at some point, rain at some point, snow and rain at another. But you know what? I'm going to have to duck inside the building because this is -- I don't know if you ever had a guest get seasick on the air, but let's not go for a first.
NNAMDIThat will not happen with you, Armando. I called you our senior reporter, but your unofficial title is man-about-town. And I don't think anybody is better suited to tell us what it looks like in the Washington region today. Where have you been so far, and what have you seen?
TRULLWell, in addition to the scene our here in Old Town Alexandria, I started out the day in Takoma Park, in Takoma, do you see -- and there was just a lot of rain and, you know, quite cold. And then I made my way up to Forestville, took the B-W Parkway to get to that. And again, you have the mixture of snow at some point, rain at some point, slosh at some point, the accumulation pretty much just on the curbs and on the shoulders of the road.
TRULLA lot of the work done by road crews in the early hours of the morning paid off because most of the stuff has melted on most of the roads. And from there, I went to BWI Airport. I went to the Maryland operation center there, and again, the same thing. The big question is going to be, Kojo, what happens later on today. The folks that, at those operation centers, are monitoring two temperatures, the temperature of the air and the temperature of the pavement, of the road.
TRULLAnd if that falls below freezing, that's when you're going to start having problems because that's when things begin to accumulate. That's when you get icy conditions. The other things they're looking at are wind conditions. A lot of the weather experts have been saying that we're going to be getting wind gusts between 30 to 50 miles per hour at some point. If you've got that combination along with, you know, heavy snow that's more of a snow variety instead of rain, you've got the possibility of those trees coming down, possibility of power lines coming down with it.
TRULLWhat I see -- I also went down to Northeast and Dupont Circle. I see people walking around because they're treating this more as a rain event, especially in the areas where just getting a lot of rain. Some stores are closed around the Dupont Circle area and downtown area, some are not. Same thing here for Old Town Alexandria. Half of the stores are open. Half of the stores are not. So folks are still not quite taking this seriously. We have to see what happens later on this afternoon.
NNAMDIYeah. Because we seem to be in a strange position right now, Armando. The worst of it has apparently not yet happened yet. To this point, the most work, I guess, was completed last night when crews salted the road. But as you were saying, we're going to have to see what happens this afternoon, huh?
TRULLYeah. I mean that's really the issue because when you have that storm, as you said, we've got the line stretching all the way from northern Montgomery all the way to here, Alexandria, which is one of the other points where that rain-snow line is. The more that snowline keeps getting to us and let me tell you if this wind out here on the harbor is any indication, it is going to get very, very windy, as I said, the whitecaps are incredible here on the harbor.
TRULLThis boathouse is really moving up and down quite a bit as all are the boats that moored. The water taxis here in Old Town Alexandria are grounded. They're not going anywhere. So I think that the wind is going to play a significant factor, especially later on today.
NNAMDIThe good part of it because you've been getting around to so many places seems to be that the roadways seem to be pretty much clear. People are staying at home.
TRULLYeah. And they have. And I think you've got to give a big shout-out to all of the road crews in Maryland, the District and Virginia, especially Virginia because that's where you are having, you know, some problems down towards Leesburg, Manassas. You've got heavy accumulations there, a lot of accidents. The road crews there, everywhere, really have been working very hard to make sure that the folks have a safe drive if they have to drive. But every official I've spoken to is urging people to stay home if they can and just, you know, hunker down with their families.
NNAMDILet Armando Trull tell you what's going on. You don't have to get out there yourself. Armando Trull is our senior news reporter here at WAMU 88.5 and our man-about-town. Armando, thank you for joining us.
TRULLThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIJoining me now by telephone is Ken Barker, vice president of customer solutions with Dominion Virginia Power. Ken Barker, thank you for joining us.
MR. KEN BARKERIt's a pleasure to be here, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIKen, what kind of power outages are we seeing in Northern Virginia on points west right now?
BARKERWell, let me start out across the state. We've got about 100,000 customers out of our 2.5 million. As we go to Northern Virginia, we've got about 14,000 customers out. And the majority of those are toward the western part, Fauquier County, Culpepper, Stafford. As you move further west, out towards Charlottesville, that's where the heavy accumulations of snow are really causing havoc on some of our lines out there, pushing trees down and overhead circuits.
BARKERSo right now, Northern Virginia, 15,000, 14,000 out, but, believe me, we are not resting on that number. We've got some pretty heavy winds coming this afternoon.
NNAMDIYeah. I was just about to ask about that. That's what Armando Trull was talking about. What effect can the winds have?
BARKERWell, the winds will be -- can be a final blow once you get snow on the trees, and they're somewhat susceptible to being blown over or leaned into our lines. That's when the outages would precipitate customers being out. So we've got plenty of resources on our system. We've gotten help from other utilities. We're ready for what happens. But again, we think this thing is far from over.
NNAMDIWhat kind of challenges does this kind of heavy wet snow present for your crews?
BARKERIt, you know, our trucks are made to go through weather like this, so access is typically not an issue. Working conditions are terrible, as you know, but our men and women, again, that's what they want to do. They want to be out there restoring our customers. Probably the most frustrating thing is when we see continued winds through the afternoon, and we get one line up and a tree down the road will take the line back out. But again, that's part of what we do. So the wind will tell the story I'd say over the next six to eight hours.
NNAMDIIs there anything you're advising people to do during the course of those next six to eight hours that you want to mention here?
BARKERWell, I mean we always just -- like I tell my family, stay inside. If you see anything that concerns you from an unsafe condition, lines down, please call our 1-866 help number. I would also tell customers if you do lose your power, we have a website that's -- it's very user-friendly, has a mobile part of it. And again, just try to stay tuned, stay away from our facilities and let us get the power back on.
NNAMDIKen Barker, thank you for joining us.
BARKERThank you, Kojo. You have a good afternoon, and I'll talk to you soon.
NNAMDIYou, too. Ken is vice president of customer solutions with Dominion Virginia Power. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, D.C. hoops history, from high school dreams to playground court. We're exploring Washington's history by way of basketball. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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