By Deborah Zabarenko
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - "Snowquester" was a no-show in the U.S. capital, which on Wednesday confirmed its status as the center of winter weather wimpdom.
Unlike the Washington snows of yesteryear - "Snowmageddon" and "Snowpocalypse" in 2010 and 2011 - Wednesday's storm failed to bring the heavy snows and high winds forecast. Before its arrival, wags dubbed this storm "Snowquester" after the budget-cutting sequester that went into effect last week.
As the storm damply spun itself out, the National Weather Service's storm warnings were downgraded to watches, then advisories, and ultimately were canceled. With temperatures just above freezing, a soupy slush covered many roadways by evening rush hour, a sparse affair with little traffic.
While most federal offices were closed to the public, with many government workers authorized to telecommute, those who made it to work offered a bit of snark.
"I realize we are under horrendous snow conditions. I think it's up to half an inch now," Senator Patrick Leahy told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. In his home state of Vermont, he said, there was once a weather forecast calling for "a dusting of snow, no more than five or six inches."
Senator John McCain, one of several Republicans joining President Barack Obama for dinner on Wednesday, joked, "I have a dog sled ready to go to be able to get there because of these terrible weather conditions that we're under."
CANCELLING A SNOWBALL FIGHT
It has almost become a tradition to dump on Washington's neurotic response to winter weather. Obama himself did it barely a week after his first inauguration in January 2009, when his daughters' school was canceled due to icy conditions.
"As my children pointed out, in Chicago school is never canceled," the new president said, adding that he would have to instill "some flinty Chicago toughness" into Washingtonians: "When it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don't seem to be able to handle things."
The decision to declare a snow day for the federal government is made by the Office of Personnel Management in consultation with the National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Administration. For this storm, the alert went out at 3:29 a.m., before a flake had fallen in most areas.
A young tradition in the U.S. capital is a snowball fight in the DuPont Circle neighborhood, a few blocks from the White House. There wasn't enough snow to make that possible this time, and organizers were not amused.
"Well, that's all folks," the Washington DC Snowball Fight Association posted at mid-afternoon, after the predicted five to eight inches of snow failed to materialize. "Sadly, the Noquester promised much & delivered nada. So DCSFA is returning to hibernation mode until next winter."
School children in suburban Maryland just outside Washington had slightly better luck with snowballs, though not with sledding.
"It's good packing," said 10-year-old Jason Kaplan after a snowball fight. But sleds and inner tubes didn't work on slushy local hillsides.
"The sledding was just not working. It (the slush) stuck to the bottom of the sled," said Andy Blower, 11.
"There was a lot of mud," said Kaplan.
The Capital Weather Gang blog, billed on the Washington Post website as "the inside scoop on weather in the D.C. area and beyond," got some heavy online criticism. "#Snowquester perfect name: Advertised as epic disaster. Verifies as annoying disruptive flop no one can agree on. @capitalweather," Bethany_Usher posted on Twitter.
(Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko, additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Rachelle Younglai, Timothy Ryan and Diane Bartz; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Phil Berlowitz)