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Yesterday, the thermometer reached nearly 70 degrees. It’s been raining all day today. Tomorrow, snow flurries are possible, and on Sunday, there will be an ice storm. No matter your opinion on global climate change, these irregular meteorological patterns are not new to the District.
While newly arrived in the city as a capital correspondent in the winter of 1867-1868, Mark Twain, our country’s timeless humorist, wrote about his indifference toward our “scurrilous” weather. In his first Washington letter to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, with a date of Dec. 4, 1867, Twain wrote:
I have been here a matter of ten days, but I do not know much about the place yet. There is too much weather. There is too much of it, and yet that is not the principal trouble. It is the quality rather than the quantity of it that I complain of; and more than against its quantity and its quality combined am I embittered against its character. It is tricky, it is changeable, it is to the last degree unreliable. It has catered for a political atmosphere so long that it has come at last to be thoroughly imbued with the political nature. As politics go, so goes the weather. It trims to suit every phase of sentiment, and is always ready. To-day it is a Democrat, to-morrow a Radical, the next day neither one thing nor the other. If a Johnson man goes over to the other side, it rains; if a Radical deserts to the Administration, it snows; if New York goes Democratic, it blows—naturally enough; if Grant expresses an opinion between two whiffs of smoke, it spits a little sleet uneasily; if all is quiet on the Potomac of politics, one sees only the soft haze of Indian summer from the Capitol windows; if the President is quiet, the sun comes out; if he touches the tender gold market, it turns up cold and freezes out the speculators; if he hints at foreign troubles, it hails; if he threatens Congress, it thunders; if treason and impeachment are broached, lo, there is an earthquake!
If you are posted on politics, you are posted on the weather. I cannot manage either; when I go out with an umbrella, the sun shines; if I go without it, it rains; if I have my overcoat with me, I am bound to roast—if I haven’t, I am bound to freeze. Some people like Washington weather. I don’t. Some people admire mixed weather. I prefer to take mine “straight.”
Nearly two decades later, in early March 1885, Twain was in Washington and wrote his wife about his continued indifference to our clime.
Similarity between Washington and other cities probably doesn’t exist. The differences are almost innumerable. The city is big; it is also small; it is broad; it is narrow; sometimes it is wet; sometimes it is clouded with dust. The sun rises early, without a smile, thinly veiled and cold; later it burns like Hell; still later the clouds rise up, and suddenly you find yourself engulfed in darkness, wet through with rain – and, as a consequence – your moral state quite probably upset. Before you open your umbrella, the bad weather has again vanished and everything lies in bright sunshine. You shut your eyes, deliver a solemn “Thank God,” open your eyes again, and Holy Moses, it’s snowing!
So when the snow starts Sunday, now you’ve got a script to follow.
John Muller is the author of Mark Twain in Washington, D.C.: The Adventures of a Capital Correspondent, published in October.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons