We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
The Washington region is bracing for four to seven inches of snow today, followed by a blast of arctic air that will plunge temperatures into the single digits. We talk with Jason Samenow, from The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, about what to expect and the science behind winter weather predictions.
- Jason Samenow Weather Editor, Washington Post
MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo. Coming up later in the broadcast, a local rug cleaning business is disputing negative online reviews about its service, and now a Virginia court is forcing Yelp to reveal the identities of half a dozen anonymous reviewers. We'll talk about the future of anonymous speech on the internet, but first, forecasters say today's snow will amount to up to 10 inches of white stuff falling in our region.
MR. MARC FISHERAnd temperatures dropping to downright frigid. Many Washingtonians are wondering, will this be another "Snowmageddon," or not enough accumulation to build a decent snowman? We'll look at why, despite all the advanced equipment in a meteorologist's tool kit, it can be hard to know what the weather will bring, and we'll do that with the Weather Editor of The Washington Post, Jason Samenow. And Jason, this has got to be Christmas and New Year's all wrapped into one for you.
MR. JASON SAMENOWOh yeah. It's like the Super Bowl for us. We love these storms, although, frankly, I wish this one was a little bit more clear cut, in terms of how much snow we're going to see in D.C.
FISHERWell, I was just gonna say, looking out the giant picture window here at WAMU onto Connecticut Avenue, what I see is totally clear sidewalks and pavement. No snow.
SAMENOWRight. So, we do have light snow falling across the region, and some heavier snow out towards the western suburbs. Frederick County, Montgomery County, and Loudoun County, but in the city, just because temperatures have been relatively mild recently, the snow isn't really sticking on the roads and on the concrete surfaces just yet. We're seeing it on some of the grassy areas and elevated surfaces, but we need the snow to start increasing in intensity and for temperatures to fall a little bit more, and I think we will see that as the afternoon wears on a bit.
FISHERSo, you know, there's one scare after another that turns out to be a bust, and I guess you have to forgive your readers and people around the area if they are a little Chicken Little in their approach to all this by this point.
SAMENOWYeah, it's been a tough stretch for us since last March, when we had the so-called "Snowquester Storm," which didn't work out as forecasts, especially in the city and close to town. There was a lot of snow for that storm in the colder suburbs, and we may be seeing a similar situation in this storm as well. Although, this storm is really just getting going. So, I think it's too soon to call this one a bust. We're starting to see the storm develop off the Carolina coast, and we may see the snow start to increase in coverage and intensity this afternoon.
SAMENOWBut I think if you live south of the District, your chances of getting a bust are increasing, because there's probably gonna be a pretty sharp cutoff once you get south of about Fairfax County, in terms of the substantial snowfall.
FISHERSo, for the District and its immediate suburbs, what is your revised estimate of the total we'll be getting by day's end?
SAMENOWWell, we're still, yeah, we're still four to seven inches for the immediate D.C. area. Although, around the city, I'm gonna have to lean towards the lower end of that range. And I'm just hoping, frankly, at this point, we get two or three inches, because D.C., as measured at Reagan National Airport, is in the midst of its longest two inch snowstorm, John, on record, dating all the way back to January 26, 2011. So, we've gone almost three years without a two inch snowstorm.
SAMENOWSo I'm just hoping we can achieve that. I think we should be able to do that, just because temperatures will be falling this afternoon, and I think we should be able to manage two inches. Now, whether we get up to the four inches, which is the low end of our range, that might be tough for the city and Reagan National, places right along the river. But if you're in Montgomery County, Fairfax County, and Howard County, I think you should be solidly into four to five inches. In fact, some of the areas out towards Gaithersburg, Damascus, Frederick, are already in the three to five inch range.
FISHERSo, for those many listeners who are federal workers or parents of school age children, who've had their lives altered today by closings that took place, you're the guy a lot of those school superintendants and federal government administrators and mayors look to for -- your every utterance is studied. Is it frustrating or thrilling, for you, that they're watching your every word for making these decisions about who goes to work and who stays home?
SAMENOWWell, let's be honest. It's actually the National Weather Service, which is briefing OPM on whether or not to open or close the government. And the school systems, of course they consider the media forecasts, both from the Capitol Weather Gang as well as from the TV stations, but -- the National Weather Service is an official source of information as well. And their forecasts for snow were as aggressive as anyone's, calling for six to eight inches. We were a little bit low, four to seven inches. And my colleagues in the broadcast industry were all in that range.
SAMENOWSo, there's been a pretty strong consensus that this would be a moderate snow storm for the region, and as I said, we still have to see how this plays out as the afternoon and evening wears on. The fact of the matter is is that temperatures are gonna be falling pretty markedly late this afternoon, and as that happens, as the winds kick up and snow continues to fly, I do think that it will be -- there'll be some hazardous travel between about four and seven o'clock this evening. Now having said that, I don't know if I personally would have recommended that the federal government close today.
SAMENOWI kind of saw this as a moderate impact storm, and it seems to me that OPM's gotten a bit soft in the last couple years, whereas storms, which they wouldn't have closed for in the 80s and 90s -- they're seemingly closing more frequently. And I'm not sure why that is. There, of course, there was a snow -- there was a (unintelligible) debacle in January, 2011, where people were stranded on the roads for six to ten hours. And maybe there's still some backlash from that, but this was never advertised to be a crippling snow storm.
SAMENOWA moderate snow storm, no doubt, with, as I said, potential for some hazardous conditions late this afternoon and this evening, but not a crippling storm.
FISHERAre we, indeed, the weather wuss capital of the world? I mean, it's not just the federal government. School systems are also much quicker to shut down than they were 10, 20 years ago. Is that -- are we distinct from other parts of the country in that way?
SAMENOWI think this may be a national trend, in that school systems are erring more and more on the side of caution as a risk management decision to avoid against backlash and angry parents. And so forth. So, I think you are seeing school systems erring on the side of safety. And we're seeing that, I think, even more in D.C., maybe, than in other areas, just because the D.C. area has such a mix of people. A lot of people not used to snow, not -- don't have a lot of experience with it, because it's a transient city.
SAMENOWSo, people tend to freak out here, maybe more than certain other cities. Except, obviously, if you go south of here. If you go to Atlanta or North Carolina, they might close for a flurry down there, but for a mid-latitude city, yeah, I think D.C. is a little bit of a wimpy city when it comes to snow.
FISHERWe're talking to Jason Samenow, Weather Editor of The Washington Post. And you mentioned that, in addition to the snow, we've got some very cold temperatures coming our way. What is going on here with this super cold weather? We had the polar vortex two weeks ago, and now we're -- are we getting another dose of the same thing?
SAMENOWYeah, it's a similar pattern. So, basically, you've heard about the severe drought they're having in California. So, there's a huge blocking ridge of high pressure over the west coast, and that's basically forcing all of the weather systems to dive south. It's redirecting weather systems rather than them coming into the west coast. It's directing them up and over that ridge. And then south eastward into the continental US, so all of our weather, right now, is coming from Canada and the Arctic, rather than from the west coast. And so we're getting these Arctic air outbreaks, and yes, we're on tap for another one tonight into tomorrow.
SAMENOWWe're gonna see lows tonight into the single digits with wind chills below zero. We have a wind chill advisory in effect for wind chills of minus five to minus 15 overnight tonight into tomorrow. So, this is a frigid air mass, and assuming we do have some snow cover, that'll make it even colder. And highs tomorrow may only be in the teens throughout the metro region. And we may not rise above freezing until sometime on Saturday, so unlike the cold snap a couple of weeks ago, where it was here today and gone tomorrow, this one has some staying power and will be here for about five days.
FISHERBefore we let you go, we have a tweet from Mindy who says, and now forecast back peddling has begun on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" with forecaster from the Capitol Weather Gang, saying D.C. will hopefully get two inches. But Jason Samenow, you're on record as saying, this was never going to be a huge storm.
SAMENOWRight. I mean, again, we've always said four to seven inches or so for the D.C. area. Again, I think, around the city, we'll probably be on the low end of that, and we'll see. As I said, the storm's just getting going, and there is a chance, as the afternoon wears on, as it gets colder, we'll start to see the snow pile up a little more, but we're right on the edge. So, there is still the chance that this will disappoint snow lovers once again. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping, yeah, that we can at least pull out a couple of inches from this and it won't be total bust, even if it's a minor one.
FISHERWell, for The Weather Gang's sake, we're certainly hoping along with you. Jason Samenow, Weather Editor of The Washington Post, thanks so much for being with us.
SAMENOWYeah, you bet.
FISHERAnd when we come back, after a short break, we'll take a look at the future of anonymous speech on the internet. Is it Constitutional, and are courts cracking down? That's after a short break.
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