- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

As they say in “Game of Thrones,” winter is coming. And with it, snow — the bane of daily commuters. But there could be some relief from last winter’s punishing snowfall as local meteorologists say this season should be relatively mild.

Weather watchers from the Capital Weather Gang and the National Weather Service told the D.C. Council’s Transportation Committee on Tuesday that this winter should be slightly colder than last year’s, but there should be no major storms like the one that dumped up to 24 inches on the city Jan. 22-23.

Capital Weather Gang meteorologist Matthew Ross said temperatures should be a degree or two higher than normal and snowfall should total 16 to 24 inches, which is slightly higher than average for the whole winter.

“We’re leaning toward the biggest event being six to 10 inches,” Mr. Ross said.

He cautioned, however, that the weather can change quickly: “Keep in mind this is low confidence,” he told the committee.

Even without a large snow event this winter, the city should look out for “clippers” that dump a couple inches of snow quickly, the meteorologist said. This often happens when the road temperature dips into the 20s, and snow sticks and freezes.

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A light storm earlier in January hobbled the city days before the blizzard. It only took one inch of snow on the evening of Jan. 20 to bring traffic around the District to a standstill due to a lack of preparation by city crews. Some reported sitting in traffic for up to six hours during that evening commute.

Christopher Strong, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said city crews shouldn’t bear the blame for not preparing for the light storm since their focus was on the impending blizzard and smaller snowfalls are difficult to predict.

“Any event that’s minor like that is a lot harder to forecast,” Mr. Strong said. “They’re more chaotic in how they behave and they can be amplified just enough to change the forecast. Big storms have become increasingly easier to forecast.”

He noted that there was only a 20 percent chance of snow just 36 hours before the Jan. 20 event. It was until around 11 a.m. the day of the snowfall that the forecast changed to a 60 percent chance, and there wasn’t enough time to deploy plows and salt trucks before rush hour traffic, Mr. Strong said.

Christopher Shorter, director of the D.C. Department of Public Works, said the city is in a much better position than last year when it comes to snow removal preparedness.

DPW used the offseason to take a comprehensive look at snow operations, he said. During January’s blizzard, the city cleared 1,100 miles of roadways within 48 hours of the end of the snowfall. DPW also resumed trash and recycling four days after end of snowfall, which the director said was much quicker than in previous years. But there is room for improvement, Mr. Shorter said.

The city employs 834 snow personnel, 183 heavy plows, 180 light plows and stores 30,000 tons of salt in reserve. Mr. Shorter told the committee that his agency has increased number of leased trucks that will be available to staff if and when city-owned trucks break down.

DPW has made other improvements, including a new staffing plan, expanded training for ground operations, stronger contractor and performance oversight, and updated tracking systems in vehicles, he said.

All vehicle operators will be trained by early December, Mr. Shorter said. The city’s annual dry run, which acts as a dress rehearsal for the snow season, will take place Friday.

“Our success is largely dependent on our teams ability and knowledge to complete jobs,” he said.

Meanwhile, the venerable “Farmer’s Almanac,” which has been forecasting the weather since 1792, also predicts a relatively mild winter, with the heaviest snowfalls likely to occur mid- to late January and early to mid-February.

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