Thursday, February 26, 2015

Why southerners do snow "a li'l different"

We survived another winter storm in the Atlanta area this week and I think I speak for most when I say bring on spring!

Winter storms are an enormous news event here. Schools close out of an abundance of caution, often with no precipitation nor ice to be seen for 100+ miles. Grocery stores get slammed with shoppers and parents frantically dig through closets trying to find whatever winter gear they can scrounge up, whether it actually fits the kids or not.

So... why is that flake on the forecast such a BIG deal in the South?

Down here, we do snow "a li'l different". It's just the way it is. There are some hard facts as to why the panic ensues. For instance...

Actual meterological stuff! 
In the northern areas of the US, precipitation plus freezing temperatures = snow. Down here, when precipitation hits a warmer atmosphere, it generally comes down as sleet, "wintry mix", or a really wet snow. Yesterday evening, the snow came down in giant, wet flakes for hours but then it turned to rain. The rain melted a lot of the good fluffy snow - and guess what happens overnight once the temperatures drop below 32 again? Ice. And in case you didn't know, driving on ice is pretty much impossible.

Snowplows are expensive!
State governments do not have endless funds. If politicians proposed spending a large chunk of change on snow equipment that may or may not be used even once per year, they would have to give up something else. Like traffic improvements. Or runways. Or textbooks... you get the idea. Winter weather is not common in the South, so funds are spent elsewhere. When a large winter event occurs, our roads can't be cleared quickly. We can't even salt everywhere ahead of time because there just aren't enough trucks to go around.

Then there are the psychological effects of a winter storm in the South. Some kind of excitement/panic sensor triggers in our brains and we go a little bit nuts.


Television ratings.
Seriously, the news outlets here can be quite ridiculous. All day yesterday, I kept hearing "two to six inches! Huge storm! Be wary! Use caution! Heavy snowfall!"  I heard it on the news, read it online, and saw friends repeating it over and over again. At first, this was a correct forecast for our area. But as time passed, the storm path inched northward. The actual weather warning for my area, if anyone bothered to click in to read it, said to expect accumulation of less than one inch. That one was correct, yet I never heard that information on the news.

Fast cars!
This may not apply to the entire South, but Atlanta is known for fast and pushy drivers. When I first moved here, I was told by a boss, "speed limit is merely a suggestion". I thought he was kidding! If you are from out of town, do yourself a favor and stay in the right lane. If you hang in the left lane? Expect to be tailgated and cut off repeatedly. Unfortunately in winter weather, Atlanta drivers continue to speed and tailgate so when they hit a slick patch... guess what? They cause an accident. Which may in turn cause more accidents. People around here blame the weather for the traffic catastrophes, but I suspect intelligent weather-aware driving would fix much of the problem. You might be surprised how many people down here have no idea what to do when a car begins to slide. (Traffic is always bad in the rain.)

I am not immune to the endorphins that want to party with the slight mention of snow. I fondly remember growing up in Tennessee where we would get 2-3 really good snow days each year. Nothing beat the feeling of waking up in the morning to peer out a window towards a winter wonderland. I remember the anticipation we felt, listening intently to the TV and hoping for our school district to be called in the list of closings. And the squeals of joy when school was closed! I want those exciting moments for my children, so I get a little giddy when snow is in the forecast. The giddiness makes me want to go to the grocery store - for snacks to munch on while we stay in PJs and watch movies (I may get some bread and milk while I'm there too).

I was really hoping for the 2-6 inches.

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