A Southern Snow in the City

photo credit: James Willamor via photopin cc

photo credit: James Willamor via photopin cc

“I drive a  lot in the summer time, but after that, I don’t drive if there’s snow predicted for anywhere in 500 miles.” — R.L.Stine

This week Charlotte got its first snow of 2014 and first snow of the 2013-2014 winter.  I’m not sure of the exact amount we got, but I know at my house it wasn’t more than an inch.  It was a bit of a different experience for me because it was a wonderful powdery dry snow that I’m not used to getting in Charlotte.  Most of our snow is wet and mixed with ice.  And of course with our snow, our city shut down for a day and a half.

Living in a city of Northern refugees transplants who, if you choose to believe them, grew up walking in 4 foot drifts of snow to school and driving in 12 feet of snow daily to work, I get to hear plenty about how Southerners just don’t know what to do with snow.  I can’t completely disagree with them, but I also can’t say they are right either.  No, in a sense  we don’t know how to deal with snow, but at the same time, we really don’t need to know how to deal with it.  Why?  Simply because we only get maybe a total of 5 days of snow per year.  In fact, I’ve created a nice little chart to show average snowfall comparisons between Charlotte, NC and a few other cities over the course of the last 60 years.



So what is my point?  Northerners know how to deal with now because even one of the more southern located northern cities like Cincinnati, OH still gets over five times the snow we get in Charlotte. Asheville, which lists the most snow in NC, gets 5 inches less than  Cincinnati, and poor Atlanta, which has gotten a lot of flack for being unprepared this week, gets an average of 2 inches a year.  If you follow the link to the bigger chart, you’ll see that New York, New York and Cincinnati both on average get 7 inches of snow in the month of January, which is 2 inches more than Charlotte gets all year.    When the South gets so little snow there is no need for taxpayers to spend a lot of money on snow tools we will only use maybe 5 times a year, if even that.  In effect, we don’t need or have as many resources for snow, thus our roads stay icy and snowy whereas further north they are more prepared and have to clear the roads.  It is not practical for the north to shut down whole cities due to snow.  If that was the case, business wouldn’t happen for almost 3 months out of the year.  However, in Charlotte, it snows for a day and the snow is gone in two days without delay.  For us, it’s the equivalent of a Christmas holiday.

I always warn my Northern friends that driving in Southern snow is not the same as Northern snow.  They seem a bit puzzled and I’m sure they think I’m completely wrong.  However, in the North it’s second nature to think the roads are salted, scraped, and not too icy.  In the South that assumption can lead to some unfortunate accidents.  To my recollection, Charlotte has only been putting salt on the roads before snow falls for maybe the last decade, if even that.  Most of the time they waited until afterwards when they were sure they would have to save the roads.  If they do put down salt, it is normally only on the main thoroughfares, like the interstates and highways, whereas the secondary roads might get it if possible.  They completely leave out the neighborhoods and back roads where a lot of people live in the suburbs and country.  It makes driving quite hazardous, and hopefully some good Samaritans can help you if a hill is in your path.

Despite all of this there are those who insist on driving in the snow, and I think it is changing the way the South works.  For instance in my younger years, when there was a snow day everything closed, not just schools and city offices.  Everyone stayed home and enjoyed the snow.  However, nowadays, even though the city, schools, and doctor offices close, retail locations insist that they stay open.  I find some sadness in this.  Yes I understand business and making money, but I find it sad that there are those who would prefer their employees  risk driving conditions that they may not be familiar or comfortable with in order to appease those who wish to drive in the conditions.  I remember working retail during  snow days and customers asking, “Why are you guys open?” and the simple answer is, “Because you insist on showing up to buy things from us and profit is to be made.  Thank you for making me risk damage to my car that this company or you won’t pay for if I wreck while driving in the snow and ice.”   I, of course, couldn’t actually say that to a customer, but it was always on the tip of my tongue.

As more Northerners migrate down here and their ideals gain prevalence, I’m sure our handling of snow will get much easier.  It has improved greatly in a decade, another decade will probably perfect it.  However, until then, I will enjoy my snow days at home and  wish Northerners would stop making fun of our inability to drive in the snow.  Instead, feel free to make fun of the bread and milk thing.  I’m a native of this area and I still make no sense of that.



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