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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Snow in the South

I’ve been watching the reports of snow in the South with some interest. Here’s what I can tell you about the South: It is not equipped to handle a snowstorm, especially a snowstorm forecasters did not predict. The people who live there do not know how to drive in the South, and the local governments lack the equipment and infrastructure to deal with it. When my friend Hanna, who is originally from Michigan, lived in Mississippi she went looking for an ice scraper on a chilly winter day. “Just pour hot water on your windshield,” a convenience store worker suggested.

I experienced snow in the South when I lived in Birmingham, Ala. Fortunately, we knew the snow was coming. My employer volunteered to put people up in a downtown hotel so they could get to work the next day, and everything was canceled the day before the snow arrived, so hardly anybody had any reason to be on the road. I was working at an afternoon newspaper, and was part of a small skeleton crew of reporters who arrived at work around 3 a.m. I was charged with writing a color story, so I headed out to an all-night grocery store to interview shoppers and then to Marty’s Bar, which closed at 6 a.m.

The people I spoke with were enjoying the snow, because snow is rare in Birmingham. At Marty’s, they were drinking and making snow angels. I found the roads easy to navigate, because the snow was light and, at that hour, there were only a few people on the road. Also, I learned to drive in snow growing up in New Hampshire. I returned to the office early in the morning and typed up my story. Then I went home. By then, the sun was out. One of my neighbors asked me how the roads were. I shrugged. “Not too bad,” I said. By mid-afternoon, the snow had melted, and the panic had subsided.

This week’s Southern snowstorm is a whole different kettle of fish, and I really feel for the people who were stuck in it. My friend Cindy slept overnight at her office. According to news reports, people slept in their cars on the Interstate, or abandoned their vehicles and went searching for shelter; at least 3,500 students slept in their schools. One of my old colleagues posted a photo of the church she spent the night with about 30 strangers. Among the comments she heard while there: “The National Guard is outside with rations,” “You can borrow my gloves if I can borrow your charger,” and “He needs help and I don’t know what to do.” Another former colleague reported it took her boyfriend 17 hours to make it home, and that her mother was forced to spend the night at a shelter. Another left his car in a parking lot and walked a mile-and-a-half home. The big problem, as I understand, is that the temperature dropped and roads got icy.

Anyway, this snowstorm sounds like a total nightmare, unlike the mildly problematic storm I experienced so many years ago. That storm was entertaining and fun, and I greatly enjoyed seeing the South react to a winter weather event. (Frankly, it’s not so different from how we’ve started reacting up here, where every snowstorm is greeted with warnings, complaints and even hysteria.) This storm, on the other hand, dropped just one to two inches of snow, but resulted in at least five deaths and 23 injuries. I’m just grateful that my old friends and colleagues are safe and sound.

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