Measured in Feet, Not Inches
By Carla Garnett
Photos by Rich McManus, Lynn Mueller
On the Front Page...
Two winter storms one mild on Feb. 15, and one major from Feb. 16 to 17 dumped the most snow that NIH has had since the record snowstorm in 1996, according to Lynn Mueller, chief of NIH's grounds maintenance and landscaping section, Office of Research Services. A little more than 2 feet 26 inches was recorded on the Bethesda campus, with 4 inches accumulated from the first storm and 22 inches more by President's Day, Feb. 17. A much smaller snow squall on Feb. 18 probably dropped another inch or so, but was not counted in Mueller's unofficial total. The previous biggest storm the "Blizzard of 1996" that occurred from Jan. 6 to 8 dumped about 24 inches at NIH, he said.
Various unofficial tallies in other parts of the region topped 30 inches, although the official U.S. Weather Service accumulation total for the Washington metropolitan area was 16.2 inches, which was recorded at Washington Reagan National Airport. The 2003 storm went into Washington weather history books as the sixth largest snow total since records have been kept, and virtually paralyzed most of the major travel corridors along the East Coast, from Virginia to New York. Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia governments all declared states of emergency during the heaviest snowfall on Feb. 17. At the height of the storm, Maryland officials imposed a restriction on its roads that excluded all but emergency vehicles from traveling in the state; the embargo was lifted late Monday night, but motorists were still discouraged from venturing onto as-yet-uncleared roadways.
For a time, weather conditions closed all runways at BWI and National airports, and reduced Dulles airport to just one open runway. Amtrak train traffic also was shut down completely from Washington to points south, and considerably to points north and west, owing to snow on the tracks. In addition, local transportation Metrobuses and Metrorail, and such commuter railways as MARC severely curtailed service to and from the area. Most school systems were also closed through the week.
Although the federal holiday gave most employees a 3-day weekend and record snow accumulations forced the Office of Personnel Management to add a fourth day off for cleanup, Mueller said the entire grounds maintenance crew worked around the clock since Friday. Ten employees from Mueller's unit plus 10 workers who volunteered from the Public Works Branch made up the crew, which was supplemented by about 18 contract employees who worked to clear building entrances and bus stops.
"The last guy Ken Hunter just left this morning to go home after being on campus for 108 hours straight," Mueller reported on Feb. 19, which was the first official day back to work for federal employees. Mueller himself had stayed on campus since Sunday evening. "The guys are literally falling over with exhaustion. We have about 17 miles of sidewalk, 497 building entrances and more than 42 acres of parking lots, not to mention 36 loading docks and the security inspection stations to clear. By Sunday afternoon our smaller plows were overwhelmed. All in all, I would say [our effort] has been rather successful. Of course, we still haven't cleared everything yet and now we must be concerned about opening the 337 snow-blocked storm drain inlets to allow all this to melt away. In '96 there was some severe flooding on the Potomac. It's going to take a few more days to get everything cleared, but so far we have received only a few complaints compared to the size of this job."
Although most NIH'ers spent the 4-day weekend at home digging out from under snow piles, some were lucky enough to be snowed in at Canaan Valley ski resort in West Virginia, following the annual Family Ski weekend put on by Camp Fantastic. Closed roads extended their stay an extra day, and most were convinced their snow-covered cars left in NIH parking lots would delay them further from getting home. But a happy surprise awaited them.
"The main story was the helpfulness and kindness of Lynn Mueller and the NIH snow removal team," said Randy Schools, R&W president. "When we arrived back at NIH, all the cars were ready to go. They had them ready for families, and off we went. We thought we would be digging out for hours."
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