From Denmark to Virginia: Thoughts on capital weather hysteria

Isabella Heegaard Rytz cross skiing in Denmark. (Courtesy Isabella Heegaard Rytz)

Isabella Heegaard Rytz, special to

WASHINGTON – Since coming to Virginia from Denmark six months ago, I have experienced a unique mentality where people are not afraid to be whoever they want to be and achieve whatever they want to achieve.

But when it comes to snow, I see a scared capital closing schools and public facilities when a snowflake is threatening to fall.

In December 2013, Virginia, D.C. and Maryland got a few inches of snow and immediately dozens of public facilities closed down without hesitation. It was only powdery, just enough to create footsteps on the sidewalk. Regardless, schools shut down giving students a snow day. For me, that resulted in a cancelled exam at Northern Virginia Community College, as the college got shut down for one and a half days.

On Jan. 20, the first snowstorm of the year arrived and people went crazy over it. As a Danish exchange student, I cannot believe this. In Scandinavia, you need to have tons of snow, at least for a couple of days before anyone even considers a snow day. You have to literally be buried, not capable of getting out of your home, to get the day off.

We are more used to the coldness, which is a common part of living in Northern Europe. It almost felt like home when the first snowflakes came down in January. Snow is almost everyday life for me during the winter in Scandinavia. It is just a bump in the road but not an excuse to stay home. We defy the weather at any case.

Apparently, the snow hits the American soul harder than the European. I cannot imagine the news media does not take its part in the hysteria when it starts its weather spin. People here in D.C., and its neighbor states, stay inside as the sky turns white.

On Jan. 21, we went from around 55 degrees to snowstorm. That is also what is extraordinary about D.C. weather. It can change so quickly and that is so different from where I come from.

You must understand my interest in the mystery of how scared D.C. area residents appear to be of the snow may bear a bit of jealousy with it. Denmark is a real bicycle country. Most people ride the bike to work in any weather. I cannot count all the times I have fallen of my bike on my way to school because of icy roads or how many times I have almost had an icicle hanging from my nose on a cold winter day.

The “snowstorm” in D.C. is nothing compared to the snowstorms in Denmark. Often we have snow for days, even weeks. So it has been very amusing to see D.C. area residents freak out about a couple of snowflakes gently falling in the winter sun.

Editor’s Note: Isabella Heegaard Rytz is originally from Denmark and is currently an intern at WTOP.

Follow @WTOP on Twitter.

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