WASHINGTON - The nation's capital has a simple, time-tested means of dealing with a forecast of heavy snow: panic. People who don't even own cats race out to stock up on cat food.
This unreasoning fear of snow, which in truth Washington doesn't get much of -- it has gone 769 days without a snowstorm of at least two inches -- is inflamed by the news media, especially the local TV stations.
The Washington Post, normally a restrained publication, predicted the area would be hammered by a "high impact, heavy snowstorm" that would prove "crippling" for some parts of the region, would produce dangerous travel conditions, and would pose serious risks of power outages all over the region and serious risks of heart attacks in out-of-shape snow shovelers.
And, the paper added ominously, "thundersnow" was possible.
I know the local media have only our best interests -- and their ratings -- at heart, but even when I lived in Upstate New York's snowbelt I don't remember this kind of breathless coverage.
All the local TV stations seem to have reporters who specialize in standing outside in bad weather, offering informative tidbits like, "It's really coming down now." Even on balmy summer evenings, one station insists on sending us to "Storm Center 4" to learn that it's 78 degrees without a hint of rain in the forecast.
We have even taken to naming our snowstorms in pale imitation of those coastal regions that get whacked by named hurricanes.
This week's snowstorm has been dubbed "Snowquester," a play on the sequester Congress has imposed on federal spending. Maybe you have to live here to appreciate it.
Back in January 2011 there was "Commutageddon," when the federal government and private employers simultaneously decided to let their people go home early, producing the mother of all traffic jams. It took me 1 hour and 55 minutes to travel eight miles -- and I was one of the lucky ones. Normally, you don't see traffic jams like that until Friday afternoons on summer weekends.
And in February 2010 there was "Snowmageddon," which, I'll grant you, was a snowstorm with one to two feet of snow. In our cul-de-sac, which I swear has its own weather system, it was waist deep in front of our carport.
Thanks to that storm, we broke a 111-year-old record for total accumulation, 54.9 inches, barely exceeding the previous record of 54.4 inches in 1888-89.
That gives us the opportunity, unless global warming intervenes with some catastrophic storms, to annoy our children with observations like, "You call that a snowfall? We had real snowstorms when I was young. Why, I remember the winter of 2013, when we not only had to contend with the snow screwing up the roads but Congress screwing up the government. Now those were winters."
The only good thing is that Snowquester is taking place during one of the few weeks Congress is in Washington. If lawmakers could get snowed in at the capital, maybe they could kill time waiting for the streets to be cleared by agreeing on something.
By the time you read this, I hope we're ready to start on another 769 days with only piddling amounts of snow. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go panic. It's expected of us.
Dale McFeatters is a syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.