Snowzilla Turns DC into a Pedestrian Paradise


Finally, it was here – Snowzilla!

Flakes began falling Friday night. Metro closed. Businesses sent their workers home early as snow began piling up on city streets. By dawn on Saturday, the city was covered in a foot of the white stuff – and it was still snowing, coming down in endless sheets.

The wind howled. The windows of my Logan Circle apartment were covered in ice. I was still going out. I pulled on boots, fleece pants, two jackets, two pairs of gloves and a hat. No way was I going to miss this photo opportunity.

On the street, a wonderful quiet had descended upon the city. Something was missing – cars. The roads were too bad for the beasts, rendering their four wheels useless.

To get anywhere, you had to walk. Since the sidewalks were impassable, everyone took to the streets.

out walking

I walked north, into the blizzard. I am not alone in my insanity. Everywhere, people were out – walking, skiing, even biking. The few cars that were out rolled along slowly and carefully. They were the interlopers. People had reclaimed the streets.

While it’s not unusual to find men in heels on P Street, seeing one during a blizzard is bizarre. He seemed a little underdressed for the conditions but brunch must go on. I’m not sure he had enough layers.

posing for the tourists

Commissary and Stoney’s were open, doing a brisk business to anyone willing to brave the snowy streets. And judging from the noise, there were a lot them.

Stoney's is, of course, open for business #IGDC #dcwx #snowzilla

A block up, I encountered a cheerful woman jogging down 15th St, lightly hopping over mounds of snow. No weather will stop the runners of this city.

snow jogger

The silence of the city was almost total, the only sounds being the crunch of snow underfoot and the sounds of distant people.

I heard the laughter a couple blocks from Meridian Hill, a happy roar coming from the park. People were sledding and even snowboarding down the steps. One offered me the chance to tube down the stairs but, being older and wiser, I declined. Getting injured when the city was paralyzed by snow seemed like a really bad idea.


The blizzard picked up, blowing hard, snow pouring into the park. I walked back home down 16th St, the wind at my back. The day was coming to an end. Visibility had declined to less than a block.

It was an amazing opportunity to get photos of a city transformed by white. This was my favorite photo from the day.

16th St snow scene

We’re looking south on 16th St. On the left is the Church of the Holy City, a Gothic-style church built in 1896.

16th Street is normally a commuter corridor, designed to get Marylanders into the city. If I stood in the middle of the street on an ordinary day, I’d be run over.

Thousands pass this church every day, in noisy cars and busses, without a second glance. The value of a car-free city is the chance to appreciate buildings like the Church of the Holy City. When you’re not keeping your eyes out for cars, you have the opportunity to engage with the environment.

That’s what I like best about blizzards. Snow turns DC into a pedestrian paradise – as it was designed to be. L’Enfant didn’t create DC for automobiles. He planned it for people. The city should be returned to them.

It was all over by Monday.

Many of the sidewalks were still impassable but enough roads had been plowed to prompt the return of the internal combustion beasts. Pedestrians were nosed off the streets by cars.

she's walking in the street because NPS doesn't clear their sidewalks

Mayor Muriel Bowser said we had to get off the pavement – we had to take our chances climbing over snow piles and fording icy streams. Better be nimble, to be a pedestrian in DC. And if you’re old or disabled? You’ll never make it in Muriel Bowser’s DC.

Of course, the DC government didn’t bother to shovel its own sidewalks. Neither did the feds, the worst offender being the National Park Service.

A pocket park owned by NPS near me was not only unshoveled, but snow plows had covered the sidewalk in six feet of snow. I had to walk in the street. As I did so, a car brushed my hip, splattering me in slush. The blizzard times were over. DC had been returned to the drivers.

Snow Day! Tips for Photographers



While my Floridian relatives consider DC to be “the North,” a lifeless region of cold weather and colder people, the local climate is moderated by the nearby Gulf Stream. It takes a combination of Canadian air and Southern moisture to make snow pop here. We’ve had whole winters without a major snowfall. 

But, when it snows, it is beautiful, turning DC into a pedestrian paradise, a living snow globe, a world turned white. It’s really a special city, without cars.

And, if there’s more than a couple inches of snow, the swamp shuts down. Before the storm, panic shopping. After the storm, people huddle inside with beer and snacks. Except for us photographers, who bundle up and head out the door.

snow cyclist on Madison Av

It’s a great photo opportunity! DC is at its prettiest in the snow. While the city has gotten better at clearing the white stuff, a major storm will leave the streets car-free for a day or two. A quiet descends on the city. The only thing you hear is the soft sound of boots on uncleared sidewalks. Distant laughter from people throwing snowballs. The swish of cross-country skis on the National Mall.

If you’re willing to venture out, you’ll have the city to yourself. Here are my tips for how to enjoy the rarity of Washington, DC snowstorm. And how to take some good photos.

Where to Go

Here are the places I like to go in the snow:

Spanish Steps (22nd and S NW) – This is hidden gem in Kalorama, a small-scale version of the steps in Rome. It has a classic beauty and makes a really nice spot for a portrait. Look for the Hobbit House on R Street – the blue door of this unique residence makes an interesting photo. From there, you could walk over the P Street bridge to get a photo of Rock Creek Park and then continue on to Georgetown.

Spanish Steps in the snow

Logan Circle – The contrast between the red-brick homes and the white snow is really interesting. Also nearby are Riggs and Corcoran Streets, which are really pretty. And if you get cold, you can visit one of 14th Street’s many coffee places.

Logan Circle in the snow

Meridian Hill Park – Modeled after a European garden, this is different than the wide-open spaces of the National Mall. It’s full of nooks and crannies, like the statue of Dante. And from the top of the stairs, you get an expansive view of the city.


Lincoln Memorial – The majesty of this monument is magnified by the snow, made more impressive after you trudge a mile through fresh powder to get there.


Smithsonian Castle – During a snowstorm, the Capitol fades from view. You can just make out the turret of the Smithsonian Castle. It’s chilly, but worth it, to get photos of cross-country skiers and crazy bike riders on the snow-covered Mall.

Smithsonian Castle on a snowy day

What to Wear

I'm an idiot, of course, but am home safely now #IGDC #snowzilla

I want to take photos but I also don’t want to die of hypothermia. Here’s what I wear:

  • Snowboots – DC snows are very wet. Waterproof boots are essential. Nothing worse than wet feet.
  • Fleece-lined pants (snowpants would be a good idea).
  • Shirts (at least two)
  • Winter jacket
  • Hat (I took it off for the photo above).
  • Scarf
  • Two pairs of gloves – It’s hard to manage a camera in gloves. I have lighter pair when I’m taking pictures and then slip the heavier pair over them when I’m walking.
  • Optional: Thermals, long underwear, hand warmers, etc… I think it’s a good idea to wear one more layer than you think you’ll need.

What to Carry

I like to carry the minimum amount of stuff when out tramping in the snow. Here’s what I carry.

  • Timbuk2 Messenger Bag – Let me praise this indestructible bag! It’s comfortable to wear, easy to access and, most importantly, it’s water-proof. The rubber liner will protect your valuable gear from the rain and slush. Worth every penny.
  • Canon Rebel – I’m on my third Rebel. It’s an easy to use DSLR.
  • iPhone
  • Jackery Battery – Every iPhoneographer should have one of these. While battery life has improved, if you’re out all day your battery will get low – particularly in the cold. Freezing temps will kill off your battery more quickly than you expect.
  • Food/Water – There are no food trucks during a snowstorm. Most restaurants will be closed. Make sure you have some food with you.

What to Shoot

When I’m out wandering the snowstorm, this is what I look for:

Landscapes – Snow turns workaholic DC into a Currier and Ives print, transforming busy city streets into an enchanting frozen landscape. Take photos of a city shut down by Mother Nature.

McPherson Square in black and white

Activities – There’s no such thing as bad weather but bad clothes, right? I like to take pictures of people doing stuff in the snow. Look for the big snowball fight that’s become a DC snow tradition. I admire the hardy cyclists of this city and like to get photos of them. And two years ago, I saw snow kites on the Mall, which was mind-blowing.

kite skier by the Washington Monument

Weirdness – Snow turns the ordinary strange, like a mailbox buried in snow, icicles dripping off buildings or statues covered in the white stuff. Or a snowman contest.

unicorn of snow

Contrast – Snow has a uniform quality to it that can look boring on film. Look for contrasts, like red berries in the snow or the bright colors of a skier.

A little bit of color on a snowy day on Rhode Island Av

Tip: It can be tricky to get photos of snow. Your camera has a hard time with the white balance. Here are some tips from Angela Kleis on how to adjust your camera settings to get that SnOMG photo.

How to Get Around

What’s the best way to get around DC during and after a snowstorm?

cross-country skier

  • Walk – Put on your boots and go! You’ll have to climb over snowbanks and trudge down snowy sidewalks but that’s part of the fun.
  • Metro – Once the storm arrives, the government will shut down. And without passengers, Metro works really well. The underground portion of the system almost never closes. If you can get to a station, you can get around.

All other forms of transportation are problematic. Buses will be running limited routes. Uber fares will be double or triple. If you’re driving, you risk getting stuck on unplowed streets. If you bike, you’ll need studded tires and some good health insurance.

Tip: I like hotel lobbies to warm up in. While everything else might be closed, hotels are always open. They make good places to hang out and upload some photos.

Stay Safe

While it’s not exactly the frozen tundra, DC during the snow can be dangerous. Proceed with caution.

Icy sidewalks around Logan Circle

  • Watch your step. It’s easy to twist an ankle or trip over an obstacle in the snow – look where you’re going. Keep an eye out for ice. Also, those metal sidewalk grates can be really slippery in the snow.
  • Watch the weather. During Snowmageddon, I got stir-crazy and wandered out to go watch an EPL game at the Lucky Bar. While I was inside drinking, the blizzard resumed. My walk home was like a Jack London story of survival. That might be a little dramatic but make sure to check the weather before you go out.
  • Alcohol is not an insulator. Snow days are synonymous with drinking. Drunk people wander off and die every winter – don’t be that person. Do your drinking at home.


I hate winter but love the snow. Without a paralyzing snowstorm, DC is boring and cold in January. Snow livens things up, turning the city into a winter wonderland.

But it doesn’t last long. Within a few days, the snow will be dirty slush. Don’t miss the opportunity to capture some great DC snow photos.

Friday Photo: Giant Hand Edition

Snow on the giant hand at @noaa Building 3 #dtss #igdc #snow
The Hand of Noah in front of NOAA Building Three.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a large federal bureaucracy in Silver Spring, MD. I’ve worked there as a contractor in two separate stints – three years in the National Ocean Service (NOS) and a little more than two years (so far) in the National Weather Service (NWS).

If you work at NOAA, you refer to where you work by building number.  In NOS, I worked in Building 4. In NWS, I work in Building 2. The sculpture above is in front of Building 3. I don’t blame you if you’re confused.

According to the NOAA Library:

The sculpture in front of NOAA’s SSMC3 building (at 1315 East-West Highway) on its Silver Spring, Maryland campus is called “The Hand of Noah”. It was given this title by its sculptor, Raymond Kaskey, in 1991, and symbolizes NOAA’s stewardship of the environment.

In NOAA-land, the giant hand makes a convenient landmark. “Meet me at the giant hand,” is a phrase you hear a lot.

I took this photo during a beautiful, short-lived snowstorm in Silver Spring. I’ve wanted to get this pic for years and, finally, the weather and my schedule cooperated. Like the birds in the sculpture, I feel free!