Snow Day Smackdown: Winter Wimps Vs. Warriors On Wednesday, President Obama mentioned he was puzzled by the numerous school closings in the Washington, D.C., area. He called for some "flinty Chicago toughness" in the District. When it snows — or ices — where you are, do you greet it with gusto or grumbles?
NPR logo

Snow Day Smackdown: Winter Wimps Vs. Warriors

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Snow Day Smackdown: Winter Wimps Vs. Warriors

Snow Day Smackdown: Winter Wimps Vs. Warriors

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


In too many places, the ice storm that just swept from Texas to Maine is no laughing matter - 23 people reported dead, hundreds of thousands of homes still don't have electrical power. Here in the Washington, D.C., area, we got snow and sleet and freezing rain, and many schools, citing icy streets, cancelled classes yesterday, including the private school that President Obama's daughters attend, which the resident of Chicago found difficult to believe.

President BARACK OBAMA: I don't know, we're going to have to try to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town.

(Soundbite of laughter)

President OBAMA: I'm saying, when it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don't seem to be able to handle things. But anyway…

CONAN: To be fair, Washington, D.C., can overreact to winter weather sometimes. But a few people who've lived here longer than eight days took umbrage at the president's remarks. So, what's the tension like where you live? And if that's San Diego or San Juan, stop snickering. We want to hear from the snowier reaches of the audience today. Are you winter warriors or weather wimps?

Call 800-989-8255; email us, You can join the conversation on our Web site at, and click on Talk of the Nation. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has lived in Washington for nearly 30 years and he's seen the good, the bad, and (Laughing) the ugly weather. Yesterday, he took to the op-ed pages of his newspaper, not to argue the finer points of the stimulus plan or the war in Iraq, but to defend the city of snow wimps. Eugene Robinson, nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. EUGENE ROBINSON (Columnist, Associate Editor, The Washington Post): Good to be here, and I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be here representing wimps.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBINSON: Appreciate the honor.

CONAN: Well, you do point out that when flakes are forecast in this area, there is generally a panic run on the supermarkets for toilet paper and bottled water.

Mr. ROBINSON: There is, and it is often insane - clinically insane. I mean, I literally have seen cars abandoned by the side of I-66 in two inches of snow, and I've seen these amazing runs on supermarkets and everything. It's - you know, including people buying toilet paper for reasons that we don't even want to envision. But - you know, there's a difference. There's a difference between the legitimate closing of schools on a winter day and the illegitimate closing of schools, and we've done our share of the latter. But I think the storm that we just had was more an example of the former. The street in front of my house was icy, and anybody who tried to walk up that street would have fallen on his flinty keister.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You point out Chicago seems to be on the north side of the rain-snow line. When it precipitates in winter time, it tends to fall as snow in Chicago.

Mr. ROBINSON: It does. (Laughing) I think, in my post, I pointed out that perhaps the president ought to consult a map. Washington is situated at the fall line. It's also essentially, the dividing point between north and south and between Piedmont and coastal plain. And the result is that when we get a winter storm, some parts of the metropolitan area will get snow, some parts will get sleet, there'll be some freezing rain, there'll be some rain-rain. You can't tell what you're going to get, and there might be some ice as well.

In Chicago, you've got nothing but snow. If it's snowing on the north side, it's going to be snowing on the south side, (Laughing) you know, because Chicago's the dividing line between north and farther north.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBINSON: And it's at the point - not two geological provinces, like Piedmont and coastal plain. It's at the intersection of very flat water and even flatter land. And so, there are no hills in Chicago, so it makes it a whole lot easier to get around when the streets are slippery if you don't have gravity working against you.

CONAN: Well, we've asked our listeners to weigh in on the winter warriors, as opposed to snow wimps question. This from Erica in Alaska by email: Try 50 below. The Lower 48 doesn't have a clue about cold. She puts a smiley face there. Here in Alaska, we go to work and school down to minus 45 - one day, minus 50 - then two days later, plus five. Alaskans are happy because we have a heat wave. Trust me, you can feel that 55-degree jump. I'm from Texas, and I've been here five years. And I am already used to it. And let's get a caller on the line. This is Noelle, Noelle is from Hartford, Connecticut.

NOELLE (Caller): Yes, hello. I'm calling from New England, having moved from D.C. And comparing the two regions of the country, I have to say that Washington really struggles with how to deal with winter weather. Storms up here that the kids don't miss school for, we missed a week of school in the D.C. area. So, it's quite a different experience.

CONAN: I did spend some time - I went to school in the Hartford, Connecticut area. And again, it's on snow side of the line. When it - when precipitation falls in winter time, you got a lot of snow, but it's all snow.

NOELLE: True. Although this past storm, we had everything. We had sleet, freezing rain, and today, you know, the kids are in school, even though the roads are pretty - you need skates on to get around the sidewalks, but they're in school. And I would suspect that if this was in D.C., we wouldn't have school today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, the D.C. schools - to be fair, the public schools were open even yesterday.

NOELLE: Oh, good.

CONAN: But Eugene Robinson, there are some...

Mr. ROBINSON: That's right.

CONAN: There are some outlying suburban counties - and again, there are hills, and it's dangerous to run those school buses up and down those streets. But there are some of those suburban counties near Washington, D.C., if they see a flake in central Pennsylvania, they're canceling school.

Mr. ROBINSON: No, that's true, that's true. There's absolute truth in that proposition. And to establish, you know, my credibility on this, I went to the University of Michigan. I remember one time in four years that we had, like, a snowfall of 22 inches or something like that. I believe classes were cancelled until noon. And - but the classes after noon, you were expected to get to.

So, I realize that, yes, this is a region of weather wimps and yes, some of the school jurisdictions have made terrible decisions sometimes. Yesterday, one county decided, gee, we're going to be tough, we're going to leave the schools open. And then it iced over. So, they ended up with the worst of all possible worlds. They made everybody come to school, and then sent them all home early.

CONAN: Oh, that's always so much fun, yeah.

Mr. ROBINSON: And I think that - yeah, that's really a lot of fun. That makes you go a little crazy.

CONAN: We're talking - oh, by the way, Noelle, thanks for the call.

NOELLE: You're welcome.

CONAN: We're talking with Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post about, well, winter warriors and snow wimps. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. This from Eric in Denver- I really do agree with the president. Three, four years ago, Denver got four feet of snow, which shut the city down for four days. This almost never happens, though. We deal with snow, ice, rain - never get a day off. We do always quietly laugh when the weather talks about six inches of snow and schools closing on the East Coast. You guys out there are snow paranoids. Get over it, dig out your car, and go to work or go to school. Let's talk with Kathy, Kathy, with us from Toledo.

KATHY (Caller): Yeah, I just want to say that those of us who have to live with all the wind and all the snow, you got to allow us a little bit of smugness. Since we have to put up with this weather all the time, we feel a little superior when we can get out of the house, even when it's snowing.

CONAN: They don't - that's not the reason they call Chicago the windy city, though.

KATHY: No. But the wind, when it's snowing and it's cold, is cold.

CONAN: I remember Lou Rawls talking about the hawk, Eugene Robinson.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBINSON: No, that's true. Look, Chicago is a terrible place when it's - when that wind is blowing. It's - you know, look, I suggest that those who think we in Washington are all just total weather wimps, I suggest they might want to come here, like, in August when it's about 100 degrees and about 105 percent humidity. My colleague, Jean McManus, wrote a very funny and apropos piece on the op-ed page today, challenging those who believe we don't know how to deal with any kind of weather to visit us - visit us around the first or second week of August.

CONAN: Kathy, thanks very much for the call.

KATHY: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go to Benny, Benny with us from Jackson, Wyoming, where they get quite a bit of snow.

BENNY (Caller): Yes, we do get quite a bit of snow out here. Last week, we got three feet of snow, 50-mile an hour winds. It was 20 degrees one day, 30 below the next and then 15 degrees the day after.

CONAN: And did schools close?

BENNY: Schools did not close.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BENNY: I don't know. It is...

Mr. ROBINSON: Did people en masse move away? I mean, I know that Jackson is a beautiful place, but why do we people live where it does that?

BENNY: (Laughing) Well, we do a lot of winter skiing up in the mountains. We just love it out here. We can go cut our own firewood, and we love it when it gets like that. That's good weather for us.

CONAN: All right, Benny...

BENNY: If it's sunny and warm out in the winter, then the skiing's not as good, so that's bad weather.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Benny, and good skiing.

BENNY: Thank you.

CONAN: This from Jackie, emailing us from Chicago - D.C. residents, don't get too angry with the president. If you knew where he was coming from, you'd understand his shock that things close down when it snows. I moved from D.C. to Chicago last September. It seems like nothing is ever closed, even when a couple of weeks back, it was negative 17 and snowing like crazy. It does make you tough. This morning, for instance, when my local NPR station told me it was 23 degrees outside, I actually thought, oh, wow! It's really warm.

Regardless of thoughts, though, I nearly slipped on a big patch of ice on the ground on the way to the EL. Yeah, I might poke a little fun at my friends in D.C. now, even though I know it's only my newfound toughness that makes them seem like wimps. And well, I have to admit, Eugene, I was, you know, coming in yesterday and thinking about the difficulties of walking up one of those icy hills. But then, I thought about the public radio station in Oswego, New York, which is about - oh, 150 feet from the shore of Lake Ontario, so…


CONAN: You can imagine what that's like and the amount of snow that they get every year. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Dan, Dan with us from Buffalo, talk about snow central.

DAN (Caller): Yes, yes, we get a lot of snow down here, and obviously, it's no exception now.

CONAN: And how much is on the ground?

DAN: Well, it's melted a little bit, but we got about five inches yesterday over the course of the day.

CONAN: And well, the schools stayed open there, right?

DAN: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, they'll have closings during some things. But for the most part, you know, we tough it out. But I did use to live in the D.C. area. I went to college down there. And I was absolutely stunned by the inch or two that would accumulate and how everything would shut down, without exception.

CONAN: Well, to some degree, Eugene, it's partly the drivers because the drivers - so many of them are not from here - and you get the drivers from Florida, who want to put chains on their tires at the first flake and...

Mr. ROBINSON: That's right.

CONAN: And you get the people from Minnesota who want to drive 60 on bald tires.

Mr. ROBINSON: That's right. You really don't - at least, I - I'll speak for myself. I have second thoughts about being on the roads with Washington-area drivers when there's that, you know, one flake of snow coming down because A, people panic and B, if the roads actually do get slippery, it's - they have kind of no idea - you know, turn in the direction of the skid. Well, try telling that to Washington drivers. It's not a pretty thing, and it's kind of dangerous. I mean, we - you know, we have - plus, we have drivers from all around the world - this is an international city - including places where it never, ever, ever snows.

CONAN: And half of them are driving cabs. Dan, thanks very much for the call.

DAN: No problem.

CONAN: And Eugene Robinson, thank you so much for your time today.

Mr. ROBINSON: So great to be here.

CONAN: And we'll invite you back if we have some more wimps to defend.

Mr. ROBINSON: Thanks so much.

CONAN: Eugene Robinson, a columnist for the Washington Post, with us from that newspaper's offices here in Washington. I should point out, I visited WRVO Oswego in the summertime. Tomorrow, it's Science Friday. Ira Flatow will be here with a conversation with Presidential Science Advisor Harold Varmus. Plus, teaching aspiring biologists and physicists to reason more scientifically - that's all tomorrow on Talk of the Nation, Science Friday. We'll be back with you on Monday. Have a great weekend, everybody. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.