Memories of my youth: President’s Day Snowstorm of 1979

Seeing Washington, DC buried in two feet of snow reminds me of my time in the National Military Intelligence Center (NMIC), deep, as they say,* in the bowels of the Pentagon. The NMIC sits back to back with the National Military Command Center, and, like the NMCC, is manned 24/7/365 with a staff of specialists in all regions of the world. I was a Soviet Command and Control analyst at the time, and regularly pulled shifts there.

The President’s Day Snowstorm of 1979, unlike this week’s pummeling, came as a surprise to all concerned. The storm was supposed to miss DC. I was on the afternoon shift — 2PM to 10PM. Most of us junior officers could only afford housing well outside the Beltway, and there were enough of us living in the Dale City area (45miles south of the Pentagon) that it was possible to form a carpool of NMIC shift workers.

It was a dark and stormy night when the four of us made our way to the small parking lot next to the power plant. If we’d been out in North Parking we’d still be looking for the car. We were probably the last carpool down I-95 that night, and the next morning there was 18″ of snow on my drive, in the street, at intersection at the top of the hill… I called in and said I wasn’t going to make it. Nobody else made it, either.

It was three days before we were able to get a regular shift set up again in the NMIC. During that time, the analysts slept on the floor and emptied out the vending machines all over the building. One could get to the Metro without leaving the building, but there wasn’t anywhere to go, and nothing was open. They put together a scratch relief team from those who lived close enough to the Metro to walk to a station, but mostly it was the unshaven, sleep-deprived half-starved survivors of that same night shift who met us days later.

So, I didn’t have to go through it, but it was a possibility that all of us faced, and it’s one of the things that doesn’t get mentioned very much when they talk about a heavy snowfall in DC closing the government. It does. Just not all of it.

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*In fact, it wasn’t all that deep. If you walked in the entrance on the NE face, and past the guard desk where they shot the intruder in 1987, and down some corridors, you’d come to a set of unmarked doors that were the emergency exit from the watch center. The actual offices where the day ladies worked were on the floors below.

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