Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Metro history: D.C. survived a Snowpocalypse in 1958, too

December 7, 2011 - 05:26 PM
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Endless white. (Photo: LIFE magazine)

Today is one messy slog of a day, D.C. Occupy protests, rain, talk of snow later in the day... Ugh. So begins winter, a season with which the District is more than familiar. You all recall the Snowpocalypse of a couple years ago, I take it? Brace yourselves for the possibility of that again over the course of the next few months. WMATA and DDOT have begun unleashing their winter plans in the last week or so.

In the spirit of that snowy transportation mess, let's look back to one of the District's most brutal winters — the winter of 1958.

The March 3, 1958 issue of LIFE includes several photos of how a snow storm swept through the country the previous week: "The worst winter in 20 years crippled communications, isolated whole communities, and brought death and damage to the eastern half of the country." Yeesh. The article reports temperatures "far below freezing for 11 days straight" in New York and 80% of certain crops wiped out in some regions. There were trains that ran more than 20 hours late in Pennsylvania. At least 250 people died throughout the country thanks to the frigid, "wild" snows.

Yet LIFE acknowledges that kids loved the storm, as "hundreds of schools were closed" and that the weather brought "chilling beauty" to the East Coast. Way to see the bright side, especially when that bright side segues right into your photo essay.

The photos reveal more local devastation. In farm-covered Maryland, cars sat frozen in place for four days straight. The article describes more than 1,500 cars abandoned and refers to more than 1,700 clogged roads in the District of Columbia. This was a past pre-Metro and pre-Capital Bikeshare, so cars ruled the roads ... and I can just imagine what messy roads they were at the time. I wonder how the District's streetcars, which still existed at this time, fared in the storm.

Here's hoping D.C. has learned a thing about snow in the last 53 years. Read the 1958 issue of LIFE here and more pieces of Metro history here.

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