The Office of Personnel Management just announced that federal offices in the Washington area will be closed Wednesday due to snow. The storm — dubbed “snowquester” — has now begun, and is expected to hammer Washington. The Washington Post’s Capitol Weather Gang just tweeted that “conditions will deteriorate fast” as the main part of the snowstorm moves in to Washington.
OPM says that the closure does not apply to emergency employees and telework-ready employees who are required to work. But for everybody else, enjoy your snow day.
The Washington area is likely to be hit by a snowstorm tomorrow. It’s unclear how bad it might be — we may see 1 to 3 inches of accumulation, but the National Weather Service thinks it may top 5 inches.
The Office of Personnel Management just announced that, as of now, federal offices in the Washington area will still open Thursday. But employees who want to avoid the storm — and the nasty evening rush hour it is likely to bring — can take unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework.
Check back in with FedLine for updates on the government’s operating status.
A minor snowstorm is headed for the Washington area this evening. Some are expecting the snow (and possibly rain) to snarl traffic tonight, so the Office of Personnel Management decided to allow federal employees to take unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework, if they want, to get them off the roads early.
The Washington area is expected to get hit by freezing rain this evening, and it’s going to mean a late start for federal employees Monday. The Office of Personnel Management this evening sent out a notice that said the government will open at 11 a.m. tomorrow, and told feds to stay off the roads until 9 a.m. Feds will be granted an excused absence for their delayed arrival tomorrow.
OPM is also giving feds the option to use unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework — but if you choose to telework, you have to start working at your normal time.
Emergency employees will have to show up on time, unless directed otherwise.
UPDATE 8 PM: The National Weather Service forecasts tonight’s freezing rain will result in accumulations of “a trace to less than a tenth of an inch.” NWS expects “light icing on roadways and elevated surfaces will make traveling hazardous,” not to mention slippery sidewalks. So it doesn’t sound like the end of the world, but we all know how these slippery roads can lead to trouble if drivers don’t use caution.
The Office of Personnel Management just declared the second straight day of unscheduled leave and unscheduled telework for Washington-area feds. Of course, this only applies for non-emergency feds — emergency employees must show up on time unless they’re told otherwise.
The Capital Weather Gang expects we’ll see mostly rain overnight, but can’t rule out freezing rain — especially for parts of Maryland.
Federal offices in Chicago remain open at the moment. But its blizzard is fast approaching, and feds there should keep a watchful eye out. The heaviest snowfall is expected to come overnight, so keep an eye on the local Federal Executive Board’s site to see if they make any closure decisions.
Federal employees in the Washington area will be able to take unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework Tuesday, the Office of Personnel Management just announced. Forecasters say Washington could get a “light wintry mix” tonight. That may not sound like a lot, but OPM seems to want to get way out in front of this storm. (Last week’s flash snowstorm and epic gridlock showed just how much havoc a little poor weather and lack of preparation can wreak on the capital.)
“Now is the time for managers and employees to discuss the possibility of working from home on Tuesday,” the notice said. OPM also said the government could have a delayed opening tomorrow, and that uncertain weather conditions could extend through Wednesday.
[UPDATE: The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang is forecasting a "double ice threat" between now and midday Wednesday.]
Chicago, on the other hand, is expected to get smacked beginning at noon tomorrow by a “life-threatening” blizzard (which may include 18-foot waves from Lake Michigan). The Chicago Federal Executive Board just told me that their Emergency Preparedness Advisory Committee — a 12-member panel that includes leaders from OPM, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the General Services Administration — will meet at 4 p.m. CST today to decide whether to close the government or make any other operational status changes.
Feds in and around Chicago should monitor their FEB’s Operating Status page here as your storm develops.
And speaking of the government’s response to snowstorms, the Onion has the scoop on FEMA pre-positioning supplies for New Orleans:
Washington was flummoxed by yesterday’s flash snowfall, which came right at rush hour and caused an astounding 13-hour traffic jam. This, of course, is a town that loves to find a scapegoat in such circumstances, and Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry seems to want to deflect any attempt to put the blame on him. He said at a press conference this afternoon that he stands by his decision to close the government two hours early, and would do it all over again.
Berry said that thousands of federal employees seem to have not taken the early departure option. If properly executed, Berry said the departure of some 300,000 Washington-area feds would have been staggered throughout the afternoon and gotten most people safely home before the snow.
The key, Berry said, is to leave two hours before your standard punch-out time — not once the snow starts. Because many feds come to work early — some as early as 4:30 a.m., he said — some could have been driving home at 11:30 a.m., when the early closure was announced. “Hypothetically, people should have been leaving as early as 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Berry said. “That way, we don’t dump everybody on the road at the same time.”
But many feds didn’t, including Berry’s own secretary, because there wasn’t a flake to be seen for much of the afternoon. “It’s just human nature,” Berry said. His secretary “stayed at work because she looked out of the window and didn’t see snow. She regretted it later. That was the fastest accumulating storm I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
And when the snow started rapidly accumulating, Berry said, the many feds who were still in their offices seem to have taken to their cars all at once (including President Obama). This snarled the Beltway, GW Parkway, I-66, and many of Washington’s other major arteries (which are already clogged on the best of days) and completely collapsed the traffic infrastructure.
“What I hope comes out of this is that people will more seriously take our advice,” Berry said.
Berry doesn’t think closing the government even earlier than he did would have made a difference, and reminded reporters that he doesn’t have the authority to order feds to evacuate their offices and go home. That’s up to the Homeland Security Department, and is only to be used in dire emergencies such as Sept. 11-scale attacks.
And for hours yesterday, Berry was looking at the snowless skies, wondering if he had blown the call and needlessly closed the government.
“If there was no snow, you would be yelling at me right now for letting people go,” Berry said.
I’m just going to let this series of tweets from Federal News Radio’s Amy Morris speak for themselves:
Update on OPM interview: Director John Berry has responded to WFED personally…we hope to get an interview today. (About 5 hours ago)
Morris’ interview with Berry on the snowstorm and how he decided to close the government early yesterday can be heard here. In it, Berry refuted criticism that the government’s early dismissal contributed to the epic gridlock that paralyzed the DC area last night. He said feds who didn’t heed the advice to go home early and beat the snow, along with the sheer speed at which the storm developed, “combined to make a bad situation even worse.”
Your early departure should be tied to when your usual workday ends. That means that someone who would usually work until 5 p.m. today will go home at 3 p.m.; someone who works until 6 p.m. will go home at 4 p.m.
Emergency employees and teleworking employees are expected to remain on duty.
Washington-area feds may want to get ready to telework on Thursday. The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch that says snow could hit the nation’s capital, starting in the late afternoon Wednesday, and we could see five or more inches drop when all is said and done.
We won’t know until very early Thursday whether the snow will be enough to throw a wrench in the government’s operations. So it wouldn’t hurt feds who can telework to bring their laptop or a few files home Wednesday night just in case the Office of Personnel Management declares an unscheduled leave/unscheduled telework day.
OPM Director John Berry last month touted the new telework option as a way to keep the government operating as much as possible during moderately bad weather — for example, when some snowy roads are dangerous, but not snarled badly or widespread enough to warrant a complete government closure. The alternative for feds who can’t telework, but feel they can’t safely make it in to work, is to take a day of unscheduled leave. OPM’s already done this once this winter, and Berry said it worked out well.