WASHINGTON – Shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday, a photo appeared on the official White House Twitter account. It showed the White House’s stately exterior lighted up against a dark sky. Countless snowflakes dotted the image, illuminated by the camera’s flash.
“First snow of the year!” read the photo’s cheery caption, punctuated by a single snowflake emoji.
But many who saw the picture were instantly confused. There was no snow here Sunday. In fact, temperatures hit a high of 70 during the day, prompting residents to trade their winter coats for T-shirts and light jackets. By nightfall, the weather still mirrored the “springlike warmth” that’s been affecting parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in recent weeks, making even the lightest dusting of snow an impossibility.
“What???” one person tweeted in response to the photo. “I was wearing shorts this afternoon.”
“Huh? It’s 54 degrees right now in DC,” another Twitter user commented.
It didn’t take long for the White House picture – which was actually taken Jan. 7, during the city’s first snowfall – to go viral Sunday night, sparking a flurry of reaction from social media commentators struggling to make sense of the tweet and its unusual timing. By early Monday, the photo had been retweeted more than 3,300 times, amassing close to 10,000 comments.
The picture was first shared by the White House on Friday night to Facebook with the same five-word caption, drawing a number of compliments from commenters who called the shot “beautiful” and reminisced about visiting the nation’s capital during winter.
“Look forward to the pictures tomorrow when the snow has covered the ground,” one person wrote.
Washington residents quickly set the record straight. It wasn’t snowing in the District Friday night, they commented, and there would definitely be no snow over the weekend as forecasts called for “unseasonably warm” weather with temperatures reaching mid-60s to around 70.
Then, two days later, at the end of an uncharacteristically balmy January weekend, the picture and caption popped up again – this time on the White House’s Twitter account.
At first, social media users were perplexed, sharing images of forecasts indicating that temperatures in and around Washington on Sunday were well above freezing.
“Not only is it not snowing here, last night it was so warm (68ish) I had to take off a light jacket because I was sweating,” one person tweeted.
Some users, including The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, attempted to quell the confusion by explaining that the photo had been taken last week. Several hours after the picture was shared on Twitter, the White House also tweeted a link its official Flickr page, which included a detailed caption indicating that the image was shot Tuesday afternoon “during a snow flurry.” The follow-up tweet later appeared to have been deleted, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.
At least one person also supplied a theory about why the White House may have waited to post the wintry photo: The date of the first snowfall coincided with Iranian forces launching more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two military bases used by U.S. troops in Iraq.
“There were more important things to communicate earlier last week than the first snowfall so the WH just saved the tweet for tonight,” tweeted Steve Guest, the Republican National Committee’s rapid response director.
Still, the various attempts to make sense of the tweet did little to silence derision from critics who pointed to it as an example of the latest weather-related gaffe to be committed by the Trump administration. Last year, President Donald Trump was widely criticized for displaying an official chart forecasting the path of Hurricane Dorian that was altered with black marker, a controversy that has since been dubbed “Sharpiegate.”
“This will henceforth be known as Trump’s ‘White Pointillist Sharpie’ period of fictional weather illustrations,” tweeted Joshua Geltzer, a former Justice Department and National Security Council lawyer, referencing the “first snow” photo.
Meanwhile, as reactions ranged from outrage to suggestions that the image was actually “some sort of secret communication,” others found humor in the hubbub sparked by what would normally be considered an inoffensive tweet.
“I’m laughing at the people losing their minds [because] the White House posted a photograph of snow from last week,” meteorologist Ryan Maue tweeted. “There’s no secret meaning, no agenda. It’s just a photograph of the White House while snowing.”