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What Happens When it Snows in the South

"Snow Miser vs. Heat Miser"

After seeing many posts going around Facebook from people who are not from the South making fun of how Southerners react to “snow”, I decided to write this to hopefully clear up any misconceptions there may be about why the South “shuts down” when there is a threat of snow.  While this is not theme park related, it is a Southern topic! Thanks for your attention and please enjoy! -Jackie

"Snow Miser vs. Heat Miser"

An open letter to anyone who doesn’t understand why, or worse yet, thinks it’s funny when the South shuts down for “snow”:

Hello!  Let me introduce myself. I am a native of Georgia and have lived here for all my 28 years. I love it here, but like most Southerners, I groan at the mention of the word “snow”.

I know that a lot of people who are not from the South get very confused and sometimes find a lot of humor in the way the South deals with the threat of “snow”.  You might notice that I’ve been using quotation marks around the word, because really, it isn’t snow that we fear, not at all.  It’s ice.

Our weather really can’t make up its mind.  One day, it will be 60 degrees and sunny.  The next day, the high is 36 degrees and there’s a threat of snow.  The day after that, it’s back up to the 60′s and everything melts. But what happens during that day or two that the temps actually get and stay below freezing?

Here’s what happens. It almost always starts snowing while the outside temps are still barely above freezing. Due to the aforementioned weather indecisiveness, chances are the previous day was sunny with mild temperatures, so the ground isn’t very cold and definitely has not hit freezing temps yet. So it snows.  The snow hits the ground and melts, and turns into a lot of thick, kind of slushy water.

The day wears on and the temps continue to drop. Finally, we hit freezing temps, and so does the ground.  Remember all that melted snow that fell earlier? It turns into ice. A sheet of ice.

Now we have an accumulation of snow in our yards and on our buildings, and keep in mind that our snow is not a dry, fluffy snow; it’s a wet, sticky snow that forms into a solid chunk and gets a glaze of ice over the top of it.  (Two weeks ago was the first time I have ever seen dry, fluffy snow here in Georgia.)  Our roads, interstates, sidewalks, and driveways are all just ice.

Now, unless you’re an ice trucker, you can’t drive on ice.  It’s very slippery and you will lose control of your vehicle and crash.  Two weeks ago, when it snowed here, on the very first day, I left work early so that I could get home before the freeze happened.  The roads were wet from melted snow, but not yet frozen.  I got home by 5pm, and by the time I had gotten home, the entire entrance to my neighborhood was frozen up.  The road in front of it, the turning lane, the cute little entrance with the planted median.  Seeing that it was frozen, I slowed down to a crawl and very slowly, very carefully tried to turn in.  My car immediately started sliding and I almost ended up in a ditch.

Not only do we get ice, we are not prepared to deal with it.  We have neither the equipment, nor the experience.  It hardly ever snows here.  Again, I have been here for 28 years, and I can only recall a handful of times that I have seen snow. It doesn’t snow every year, and when it does, only for a day or two. So, while we have some snow plows and sand/salt trucks, we don’t have nearly enough. Our major highways and interstates will eventually get cleared, but not our side streets and our back roads.  I can’t get to the cleared, salted, “safe” streets if my driveway is ice, the street I live on is ice, the street that our neighborhood is on is ice, and the four lane divided highway that that street is off of is ice.  There just isn’t enough equipment to clear everything.  Why would we invest in all that equipment for something that only happens once every 2-3 years and lasts a day or two?

So, what do we do?  We “shut down”.  We stock up on groceries so we can make sure to feed our families and pets for a day or two, we buy flashlights and candles in case the power goes out for a while, we shut down businesses and schools because it isn’t safe to drive to get there, and we stay at home.  Emergency personnel like doctors, nurses, EMTs, police, fire, 911 dispatchers, and linemen pack their bags and sleep at work in order to make sure everyone is safe and taken care of.  In a day or two, it melts, and we go back to business as usual.

That’s pretty much it.  It’s actually very simple and straight forward.  If it snows, it’s going to freeze and become ice, we can’t clear all the ice to travel safely, so we stock up and stay at home where it’s safe.  I know many people from the Northern United States who now live in Georgia, and yes, even they stay at home when there’s ice on the streets.

So please, don’t assume that we’re all “stupid Southerners” who fear what we don’t know.  We don’t go outside and poke the quarter of an inch dusting of dry, fluffy snow with a stick and then run away in fear and hide from it.  When we hear “snow”, we hear “ice”.

As I am not from the North and I have never been there, I can’t contrast and compare our snow to your snow.  I don’t know what happens when it snows up North, so I’m not going to pretend like I do. But, I hope that I have provided a good explanation of what happens when it snows in the South.

PS: Even I laugh at the “bread and milk” scares. For those that don’t know, when the threat of snow happens here, we all run out and buy bread and milk.  It’s like a big Southern joke.  We buy bread because it’s easy enough to make sandwiches if the power goes out, and I assume that we buy a lot of milk because people with young children home from school go through a lot of milk (at least, that’s what I’ve been told by people with young children!).

1 Comment
  1. I’m a west coaster through and through and have yet to see real snow, so while I’ve seen those “shut down” memes in regards to the snow, I didn’t understand the humor behind it. Thanks for the great explanation. I seriously had no idea how it gets when it snows/ices. My husband grew up on the East and has terrible memories of having to shovel snow and he explained the “bread and milk” stuff to me when it kept popping up on social media. It all sounds so scary. When it rains here people go crazy so I can’t even imagine if we had to deal with ice. Stay safe! :)

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