This has been an unusually cold winter, by Georgia standards. In this region, we are doing well to have one winter storm a year, but in the last month, we’ve had three. The bad news about southern snow is that the temperature is rarely below freezing when snow begins, so the early snow melts, and then refreezes into a slick hazard. Non-southern drivers are sometimes caught off guard by the ice hidden beneath the snow.
When the winter weather predictions start rolling in, it is always preceded by a squall line of panic. The very thought of snow causes mass school closings and a fight for survival at the grocery store. People battle over bread, batteries, and milk in the fear that starvation might begin before the next sunrise when the snow melts off the streets. Being the seasoned southern weather survivor I am, I’ve learned that the only thing needed is a video and a bag of nachos.
I didn’t take one of our disaster scares seriously this year until I headed to the grocery store to pick up cold medicine for a sick child. During the drive, I heard that a major airline had cancelled three hundred flights, and others were following the lead. It was forty degrees outside and slightly overcast. When I walked into the store, I saw bare shelves, and what looked like a cage fight over the last loaf of bread. Now I was beginning to worry. Was it possible that we could get snowed in overnight, and I didn’t have a bag of nachos?
Behind the raging sea of humanity, past the barren bread racks, were the chips. When I saw a space in the battle lines, I tiptoed over the bodies of the wounded, snatched up a bag of Tostitos, grabbed a jar of cheese, and dodged attacks as I headed to the checkout. Medicine and nachos. Bring it on, Old Man Winter!
My preparedness warded off the storm, and we just got rain. These nachos would have to wait for the next storm. False weather alarms are not uncommon in Georgia. I’m reminded of a major winter storm that was to hit many years ago. We gathered around the TV to watch the twenty-four hour news coverage. This was going to be a big one! My survival instincts had already kicked in, and I was in front of the TV, Tostitos in hand. The news broadcast rotated around Atlanta as each anchor reported on what they were seeing. At this point, it was darkness, with scattered lights. No rain. No snow. It is interesting to watch reporters fill up airtime with non-information, while trying to sound dramatic. Georgia Power and the Department of Transportation had men on standby, ready to pounce on the storm, once it pounced on Atlanta. They were interviewed so many times that they began hiding from the reporters.
It was now several hours past the time when the storm was supposed to have dumped its disabling cargo on the city, but we were still waiting. Then it happened. A major break in the storm! The keen eye of the reporter was the first to spot it. “Do you see it?” she announced with excitement. Bending down, she picked a blade of green grass and said, “Zoom in and get a close shot at this. Do you see the ice crystals forming on this blade of grass?”
Panic surged through my body, and I called out to the kitchen, “It looks bad, honey. Are you sure we have enough nachos?” I knew I should have gotten some batteries, too! But I ignored my instincts. There, before my eyes, rotating in front of the camera was a blade of grass with frost. How great a winter storm a little frost can kindle. At any moment, that frosty scout would signal back to the storm to begin the invasion. I poked out my chest and let my southern pride flow. Only in the south can we spot frost on such a small blade in the winter grass. A northerner would have passed over a field of frost without even noticing.
The storm never came. Apparently, the discovery of the crystals on the grass scared off the whole invasion. Crews were in their trucks, ready to roll, but the only ice was on the turf under their boots. I consumed my nachos in defeat, and turned off the TV. It was dark outside, but I could see frost glistening on the grass under the streetlight. The landing zone was prepared, but the storm was not coming in. Another disaster averted, thanks to the vigilance of a few southern reporters.
Old Man Winter has surprised us a few times this year. A month ago I had to abandon my car and traverse the slick snow covered ice on the hill in my neighborhood by foot. A month later, I was wading through toe-deep snow. Just remember two rules necessary to survive southern winters. First, drive slow. There is ice under that snow. Second, the roads will melt by midday. Two days at worst. All that is needed to endure is something to pass the time, and a little food for thought. Up north, you might need survival supplies, but down here, nachos and a movie will suffice. That, and a t-shirt boasting about how you survived the latest southern blizzard.
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Author of I Called Him Dancer
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