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As the Southern US is receiving its first (and possibly last) snow of the season, I am reminded of all of the snow mythology that I heard growing up.
Now I know snow. I know it well. The snow did not slow me down one bit. I suffered through the harshness. I saw the Flight of the Abominable Snowmen. We once had a winter so harsh that we had five whole days of snow. In a row!
Ok, fine, I grew up in a small, Southern, textile town. We were not winter central. But we did have a few days of snow most winters (and, yes, once five days in a row – a legendary event of my childhood). And we did the sensible thing – we closed the schools so us kids could play in the snow. And ignored all the grouchy people that thoughts kids shouldn’t be playing because they didn’t close schools when those grouchy people were kids. Maybe that is why they are grouchy. Or, maybe, they are guilty of snow mythology.
What is snow mythology? Pull up your Facebook feed after the snow. Look at all of the people taking pictures of a ruler showing how much snow they got. Much more than the weather service reported, right?
Well, yes, because most of those pictures are taken in a yard. With grass. Snow sits on top of grass; it doesn’t compact to the ground. So those measurements fail to adjust that lift (if the snow starts 2 inches off of the ground and your ruler measures 6 inches, then you have 4 inches of snow and 2 inches of air).
Or, worse, the pictures are taken in deepest drift they could find to maximize the measurement.
Folks. There are government regulations for this. Honestly, here are the regulations. And then go build your own SMB. For those of you who failed to follow that link and read that enticing document, an SMB is a Snow Measurement Board. Of course, then you can’t brag:
Of course, if you continue to look at Facebook, you will see the other posts. The ones from people who “know snow.” They laugh at closing schools. They scoff at our poor winter driving skills. They howl at our pre-storm grocery store runs.
When I was a kid, I believed them. But then I got older and traveled all over the world for work. And I discovered some of the real extent of snow mythology.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have been to places where people really do just keep going despite the snow. Meetings in Milwaukee were never late or canceled. Chicago’s traffic might be a little worse in the snow, but work went on. Bangor, Maine, just kept humming.
One of my favorite moments came shortly after landing at the Fort Wayne, Indiana, airport. I approached the Hertz Rental Car counter and the man working the desk apologized for being a little behind because of the snow. No worries, though, they had cleared my windshields, heated the car, and it sat just outside the exit doorways, engine running. Seriously. You have to love the Midwest.
The funny thing, I discovered, was that the people who just keep going don’t brag about it. They don’t put down others. They just keep moving ahead.
The people with all of the bravado, however, were from places that did not quite measure up to the legend.
My first such experience – New York City. Manhattan. The toughest people on the planet. Just ask them. They will be glad to tell you.
I was working on a project that had me based in a tower on East 40th Street. Looking down 5th Avenue, you could see the majestic lion statues in front of the library. The whole area was a busy, crowded hub of excitement.
Except for one sunny winter morning as I entered the building, the streets as quiet as daytime streets in New York ever are.
I have always been a morning person, so it didn’t surprise me at all to be the first person on the floor. I was, however, surprised to discover that only 4 other people had made it by 9. On the entire floor.
“What going on?” I asked. I did, after all, have the amazing experience of being stuck in a traffic jam created by elephants walking down the street in front of Madison Square Garden, so I understood weird things happen in NYC. I was braced for everything except the reality.
“Oh, everyone is taking a home office day.”
“The snow storm.”
I looked outside to the sunny, 40º day. “What snow storm?”
“Supposed to start this afternoon. The trains will be a mess.”
That’s right. A bunch of hardened New Yorkers stayed home because it was supposed to snow later. Heck, we know how to do that in the South.
For the record, the storm failed to produce the predicted six inches of snow that night, only two. And I vowed never to listen again to people making fun of Southerners freaking out at the mere prediction of snow.
I had similar experiences in Morristown and Edison, New Jersey.
But the topper of all came in Philadelphia. You know, the city where people throw snowballs at Santa Claus. But they don’t drive in it. I have first hand knowledge.
It was a real snow. Several inches. And I was working on the 19th floor of a 32 story building. Exactly two other people were on the floor. One from Chicago. And one from Florida. Go figure. None of the locals made it.
A little before noon, we received a quick message. The cafeteria in the building was closing early. No point in staying open because only about 100 people were working. In the entire thirty-two story building.
I stood in my office looking out the window at Market Street (one of the primary streets of downtown) wondering why so few people made it to work. And the answer came clanging to me. Literally. One of the few moving vehicles was a garbage truck. With a snow plow bolted on the front. And he had just hit a manhole cover, the racket echoing down the nearly empty road.
Ok, ok, I know I will receive hate mail from New Yorkers, Jerseyites, and Philadelphians (who might try to throw snowballs at me, too). In fact, having spent so much time in Philadelphia and being familiar with the lingo, I can even predict it:
Hey, I worked in Philly. One of my co-workers was told that he was the only person who could properly use the F-word as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb. In the same sentence. He was quite proud of that.
So let me stop picking on cities and getting a little more personal – snow mythology from my own father.
Like all great dads, he was larger than life to me. And he had quite the knack for storytelling. In fact, I learned much of my history from him as he would go into quite long-winded stories of how historical events came to happen. Sadly, those tales had to be unlearned in history classes, but the stories were sure entertaining.
And, of course, he told me about how rough winters were when he was a kid. Unlike our schools closing for snow, his schools never closed. And he had to trudge to school on foot. Uphill. Both ways. Through the blowing snow, blizzard conditions, and arctic cold.
I had no idea that winters in Nashville, Tennessee were that bad.
But the final, myth-shattering moment came when he took me to his old neighborhood where he grew up. We stood in front of his house. He pointed out various points of reference from stories he had told. And he pointed down the street to his school. Yes, you could see the school from his house. Down the flat road.
So with this winter storm, we will see all of these tall tales being told. Just remember how much snow mythology is involved.
I, meanwhile, will just add a few logs to the fire – staying warm from the blistering winds outside as the snow piles up against the door. If supplies run low, we will just take the dog sled team to town, traversing over the frozen rivers, building campfires at night with flint and steel. The fires will keep the ravenous wolves at bay.
Because that is how we handle winters here in the mountains of North Carolina.