Snow in DC: how to prepare for a winter trip

Washington DC has four seasons and over the course of a winter we almost always see some snow. In a typical winter the median snowfall is about 12 inches and average is about 18 inches. If you are trying to see snow (or avoid it) you will want to pay the most attention to January and February. However, it is definitely possible to see snow in DC a little earlier or later.

What Happens When it SNOWS in Washington DC

The question that everybody wants to know when it comes to snow in DC is: what can I actually expect? For this article we classified DC snowstorms into three types of events: code yellow, code orange, and code red.

Quick disclaimer: these are not official in any way, they’re just something we invented to try to share our snow experiences.

Code Yellow

When a small amount of snow sticks to the ground, we experience a code yellow. When this happens, kids in the suburbs will get a snow day or at least a delayed start. Kids in the city, however, will probably have a regular day. Federal office buildings will stay open and locals will be expected to go into work.

For visitors, all of the major sites will stay open with no noticeable disruptions. If you are flying in or out of the city, you might see a small delay. But, you should not have to worry about cancellations unless there’s a big storm in some other part of the country that is impacting the national air system. This is the ideal snow scenario for the typical visitor because you get to see snow, but it will not mess up any of your plans.

Code Orange

This is a more severe snowstorm. In this scenario, kids in the suburbs and in the city are likely going to get a snow day. There is also enough snow on the ground that you will see people out building snowmen on the National Mall and kids sledding down the hill near the Capitol. Federal offices will stay open but the workers will get what’s called an “unscheduled telework or leave day”. This means that they can either go into the office as usual, take a vacation day, or work from home.

When we get this type of snow in DC, most major sites will stay open. This includes Smithsonian museums and places like the Capitol Visitor Center. It is always worth double-checking on social media or calling ahead before you make the trip over there. If you are flying into town, you will probably see some delays but should not be at a major risk of cancellations.

Code Red

Even though we get snow in DC almost every year, we don’t see code red snow events every year. That said, this is the one that might actually mess up your trip. When a code red happens kids will get multiple snow days and federal office buildings will completely close. If federal offices are closed, that means that the federal tourist sites will be closed. When the weather is this bad, it can be hard to get around at all. Metro does run in the snow. However, the above-ground sections will close if there’s more than eight inches or if the tracks get really icy. The local DC government does have snow plows and salt trucks but, not enough of them to clear the entire city very quickly during a big storm.

Should you visit when there is snow in DC?

If you want to come to DC in the winter, just come! We’ve had plenty of winters in recent memory where there was very little snow. You should not plan your trips around the snow storms because you will be writing off months of the year. Winter is actually a great time to come to DC because tourism is really low so you get much smaller crowds at all of the major sites, just give yourself a little bit of flexibility and everything should be fine. 

Coming to Washington DC, and want us to show you around on tour?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

About Trip Hacks DC

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation's Capital.

Everyone wants to get the most out of travel experience; we know that planning a trip can be fun but sometimes stressful. The tips and travel hacks offered here will help you make the most of your trip and avoid missing out on the best things the city has to offer. Our trip planning e-book is the perfect resource for every first-time Washington, DC visitor.

If you're looking for a guided experience once you arrive, Trip Hacks DC specializes in private tours; but has public tours options as well. Visit the Guided Tours section to learn about some of the suggested tours and the trip planning resources section for help preparing for your trip. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!

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