snowstorm

1987: The Blizzard of Discontent

Washington remained buried in snow two days after the Super Bowl snowstorm. Credit: National Archives

On the morning of January 22, 1987, Washington was hit by a massive snowstorm that, in some ways, might have been the beginning of then-Mayor Marion Barry's ignominious downfall. A sudden storm quickly dumped 14 inches of snow upon hapless Washingtonians, forcing the federal government, the District government, and businesses to shut down and send hundreds of thousands of workers home. That exodus, combined with the rapid snow buildup, quickly threw its transportation system into chaos. Ice built up on the third rail from which Metro trains draw power, by afternoon, officials had to shut down 37 miles of the 70-mile rail system, as they stuggled to free six trains that were stranded for several hours on the Red Line. Police had to be called in to manage the overflow crowds of stranded commuters at stations. 130 buses became stuck in the snowy roads, including 17 that were jammed up on one stretch of Massachusetts Avenue alone. Cars couldn't get anywhere either.

As residents pushed their cars down District streets and stranded commuters searched for somewhere to bed down for the evening, recently re-elected Washington mayor Marion Barry had it considerably easier. As the Post later reported, Barry was 3,000 miles away, playing tennis at the Beverly Hills Hilton in California, where he had come to see Super Bowl XXI between the Denver Broncos and New York Giants. Most politicians might have rushed home to lead the response to such a crisis, or at least to get in front of the TV cameras and reassure the public that they were in control. But Barry wasn't like most politicians. As the District struggled for several days to dig out from the ice that had set in as temperatures dropped to 10 degrees, Barry chose to remain in California. Even after weather forecasters predicted on Friday that the District might be hit be a second, even bigger storm that weekend, he stayed to attend the big game.