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Snow Shuts Down Washington, Mostly

January 8, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Snow stalled most of the federal government on Friday, but not some determined workers, including a few who jogged to their offices.

And not the Supreme Court which, spokeswoman Toni House said, ″doesn’t let a little snow get in the way of the course of justice.″

The eight justices met, as usual, for their Friday conference on cases under study, and a sort of ″telephone tree″ was used to summon the court’s 320 employees to work after Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist brushed off the capital’s nine-inch snowfall.

One employee, who asked not to be identified by name, said court life carried on as usual because ″we work for a guy (the chief justice) who grew up in Wisconsin, whose street gets plowed and who gets driven to work.″

Elsewhere, Earl Mellor, a marathoner, ran nine miles from suburban Arlington, Va. to his desk.

Once a month, Mellor is charged with delivering the nation’s unemployment figures to Congress, and he didn’t have full faith that the public transportation system could get him there in the snow.

He arrived at his office in the Bureau of Labor Statistics at 6 a.m., two hours before he was due at the Capitol.

Another BLS employee, Tom Plewes drove in - early.

″I couldn’t sleep last night, so I got up and came in about 4:30 this morning,″ said Plewes. He, too, was concerned about being on time for the release of the unemployment report.

Labor Statistics Commissioner Janet L. Norwood stayed overnight in a hotel, fearing the storm would prevent her from testifying on the figures to Congress.

The Joint Economic Committee met as scheduled at 9 a.m., in the person of Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis., who jogged five miles to work, as he always does, fair weather or foul.

When Proxmire gaveled his committee room to order, on hand were Ms. Norwood, Plewes and a handful of government staffers and reporters, committee staffer Bill Buchner said.

Ms. Norwood delivered good news: unemployment in December fell to 5.8 percent, the lowest rate since July 1979.

Many government workers probably considered the storm good news.

Citing the danger of commuting on slick roads, the federal Office of Personnel Management declared a snow day before sunrise, allowing most the region’s 340,000 federal workers to remain home. All ″non-essential″ workers were given the day off.

James Lafferty, spokesman for the personnel agency, said: ″We conferred with highway and police officials of all the localities and found they were just barely keeping up with the snow. The forecast was calling for more snow plus drifting winds. We made a decision for the safety of the federal workers to call the day off.″

It was a message carried repeatedly by the capital’s radio stations. That and the school closings and the weather were about all they talked about.

Federal buildings were mostly empty, with only guards and some cafeteria workers reported at various locations.

But the Smithsonian Institution museums opened as usual, crews having been called in early to clear sidewalks so the public could some in, said Joe Coudon of the museum staff.

Turnout was light, he said, ″but there are people out there.″

President Reagan canceled an appearance at the dedication of recently renovated Army-Navy Club building, two blocks from the White House.

The District Building - city hall - remained open for the third night with cots in the corridors for the homeless.

Advance warning of the storm enabled highway crews to work all night. So this time Washington avoided the massive traffic jams - which kept some people isolated in their cars for as much as 11 hours during an unexpected 12-inch snow struck on Nov. 11. Lloyd Parker of the District of Columbia government said more than 460 cars were towed off of snow emergency routes. In the past, parked cars frustrated snow removal efforts in Washington.

The Metro subway system, subject to severe criticism last year when ice forced closing of several above-ground sections, also remained in service.

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