The winter storm that shut down the south isn’t funny.

First, let me say this: yes, it sounds bizarre that two inches of snow could create states of emergency in two states, take 13 (at last count) lives, and completely gridlock two major cities to the point where drivers are abandoning their cars or sleeping in them. It especially sounds bizarre if you come from a place that routinely gets much more than 2 inches of snow. I realize that your cities don’t shut down for two inches or even ten, that you still go to work and school and lead your lives as normal aside from some extra snow shoveling. As a native Alabamian now living in Pittsburgh, PA, I respect that. Believe me, I do.

That being said, if I hear one more person who gets snow all the time laughing at Southerners right now, telling us how stupid we are, how backwards we are, haughtily detailing how much snow they routinely tramp through in high heels, or making light of this ACTUALLY FATAL winter storm, I am going to take my brand-new snow shovel that I just learned to use this winter because I NEVER HAD TO BEFORE and (figuratively) smack them over the head with it.

I am not offering shovel-brainings to ALL Northerners/Midwesterners/Canadians/wherever you cold weather people come from. Just the ones that are partaking in these, at the very least, unhelpful and unneeded, and at the most, down right offensive and cold-hearted comments. Do you think parents whose kids have been stuck in school for the past two nights are going to be helped, at all, by your self-righteous description of how much snow you have in your yard on the frozen tundra right now? Do you think the stranded motorists who slept in their cars and offices and in the aisles of Home Depot are going to read your comments about how easy it really is to drive in snow if you aren’t stupid about it and be like, “oh shucks, that was the problem–not the lack of salt trucks or the fact it was actually ICE (not snow!) or how fast it came on when NO ONE WAS EXPECTING IT–it was that I’m just stupid.” And furthermore, do you think that your reprehensible stereotyping of ALL Southerners as ignorant rednecks is going to be in any way useful to the families of the 13 people who lost their lives?

I’m really hoping your answer is no.

Of course, I realize that scolding the trolls is going to do absolutely no good. And I’m pretty sure that a large portion of the commenters who aren’t intentionally trolling still don’t give two shits about whether or not they hurt some Southerners’ feelings, but are instead just jumping at the chance to make themselves feel superior. If you fall into either of those two groups, may I introduce your face to my aforementioned snow shovel. But I don’t think everyone was trolling or just seeking to pat their own selves on the back for being awesome at snow. I think that some of these commenters genuinely don’t get how 2 inches of snow can completely cripple an entire region. I think this because one of those people is my own boyfriend, who was born in Colorado and went to high school in Missouri, which routinely gets horrible ice storms, and Just. Doesn’t. Get it.

So I’m going to explain it to you.

1. States that normally experience snow have a much more extensive infrastructure for dealing with it. The South doesn’t. I’m not talking about small rural towns that only have one snow plow attached to a pickup truck.  I’m talking about large metropolitan areas, where there are way more people on the roads and where this winter storm fucked things up the most.

I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I lived there for 24 years. The last time I remember it snowing even two inches was 1993. 1993. When an event like this only happens once every 20 years, it is ridiculous, I repeat, RIDICULOUS to expect the cities and counties to maintain extensive fleets of plows and salt reserves. Instead, they spend their budgets on preparing for weather emergencies that happen all the time, like tornadoes and hurricanes. So, no, your “get a better infrastructure” argument is invalid. Sit down.

2. It is ridiculous to expect that someone who has spent his/her entire life in a place it does not snow would have ANY IDEA how to drive in it.  Yes, some common sense does come into play here. For instance, driving slow. Duh. I guarantee you everyone was driving PLENTY slow when they were stuck in gridlocked traffic for 3 to 6 to 12 or more hours. I am equally sure that some assholes who didn’t realize the roads were icing over in the beginning were driving too fast, causing some of the initial wrecks that screwed the cities. But wrecks weren’t the only problem. In Birmingham, at least, a big problem was hills. And big ones. There are many hills around Birmingham, and lots of them are very steep. I’ve seen plenty of YouTube videos of crazy, slow-motion crashes up North when people try to drive up or down icy hills, so don’t pretend it doesn’t happen to you, and you supposedly “know better.”

And if you’re going to say something about snow tires or snow chains, I refer you to #1. I include that in infrastructure. Think of this example: Did people in the Northeast have sandbags to keep out the water and wood to nail over their windows just, like, hanging out in the basement, waiting to be used in case of a hurricane when Sandy came? Nope. But guess what. People in Florida do. Because hurricanes are a normal part of life there, so they are prepared and skilled in dealing with it. When the D.C. area had a small-by-California-standards earthquake in 2011, people freaked out because they did not know how to deal with it and the buildings aren’t built by the same codes that ones in earthquake-prone areas are. (Again: infrastructure!) The fact that the people in these cities were ill-equipped to deal with these events does NOT make them funny. Does NOT make it okay to make fun of them online or anywhere else and flaunt how superior you are. Yes, there were people who did make jokes about Sandy and the D.C. earthquake and other events like them, and I’m sure some of those people were Southerners, and they are assholes just like the ones making fun of the South right now.

3.  What little infrastructure Birmingham and Atlanta does have did not have an opportunity to be put into action. This is because they didn’t know the snow was coming until it was already there. Birmingham and Atlanta were both forecast to have a light dusting of snow, if any at all. All the bad weather was supposed to move well south of them. Therefore, they didn’t pre-treat the roads, didn’t cancel school, and everyone went to work like normal. And by the way, it wasn’t just the local forecasters who messed up here–it was the National Weather Service, too. We actually DO have a tried-and-true method of dealing with snow and ice down south. It’s called We Shut Everything The Fuck Down. Preemptively, I might add. Before the first flake falls. We are all very well aware that you snow bunnies think this is a hilarious overreaction every time we do this, but now you know why we do it. It’s to avoid what happened on Tuesday. If they had known beforehand that the snow was coming and shut everything down, none of this would have happened and everyone would have enjoyed two lovely snow days at home with their families. But on Tuesday, they didn’t know it was coming until it was too late.

4. When the snow started to come down and they realized the forecasts were wrong, most of the schools and businesses let out at the same time, flooding the icy roads with people trying to get to their children or get home. Everything devolved rapidly from there. The plows and salt/sand trucks couldn’t get onto the roads to treat them, because they were stuck in the gridlock like everyone else. People started abandoning their cars when they rolled onto ice and could no longer control their car or get it to move an inch in the right direction, or when they’d been sitting in it for hours without moving, or when they ran out of gas, adding to the gridlock. (“But driving on snow is easy!” I refer you back to #2; your reading comprehension is lacking.) Wrecks happened in intersections when people couldn’t stop. Pileups happened at the bottom of hills when people got part way up and then slid back down into the cars waiting below them. My dad left work around 3:00, and when it took him over half an hour to go five blocks, he found a parking spot and walked the rest of the 4 miles home from downtown Birmingham. In a suit and no-traction dress shoes. Over Red Mountain, which is one of those big, long, steep hills. He was one of the lucky ones who lived closed enough to work to walk home. My mom left in the middle of a dentist appointment at 10:30 to pick up my brother and four of his friends (by frantic request from their parents) from high school. She was also one of the lucky ones because she was driving before the ice and the traffic got truly awful, but even so, she passed more than a dozen cars already stopped on the side of the road. And hour and a half later, the city was stopped dead.

Both Atlanta and Birmingham were pretty much screwed as soon as the weather changed and unexpectedly hit them. Yes, some things could have been done to mitigate the shitstorm, such as staggering the let-outs of schools and businesses so that everyone and their mother wasn’t hitting the road at once. It wouldn’t have been as bad then, but it still wouldn’t have been good.

TL;DR: Have some compassion, people. Take a moment to think outside of your own experience and entertain the fact that this is a very rare event in the South, for which it is unreasonable to expect they be as prepared for or as experienced with as you. Yes, you deal with five times the amount of snow all the time. The fact is, they don’t. I have three times their amount of snow in my front yard right now, but it hasn’t caused me any problem because my Pennsylvania town has the infrastructure to deal with it because snow is a common occurance in this climate. When the temperatures reach over 90 degrees in the Northeast and people are bitching and moaning about it, I do my best to not laugh and make fun of them, despite the fact that in my head I’m thinking, “This is picnic weather.” Sometimes I fail, but I try. It’s called having some common courtesy and some compassion for other human beings when they are experiencing situations that are unusual for them. Not everything has to be a one-upping contest. Especially when it’s caused thousands of people considerable trouble and even cost people their lives.

Lastly, I fully realize that my tone here is pretty damn angry. I do not apologize for that, and I reserve the right to be angry. I realize that it will alienate some people and turn them immediately defensive, but FUCK IT. It is NOT funny that thousands of children were stranded at schools and day cares, that hundreds of teachers and school workers stayed with them for two days to take care of them. It is NOT funny that thousands of people either slept in their cars or were forced to abandon them to seek shelter in businesses, churches, and private family homes that compassionately opened their doors to them. It is NOT funny that people went without necessary medications for days, or that a woman gave birth on the side of the highway because emergency vehicles couldn’t reach her. It is ESPECIALLY NOT FUNNY that people lost their lives in car wrecks and other weather-related tragedies that seem so pedestrian and run-of-the-mill to you. So please take a second to give it some thought before you make some joke or snide comment that you think is SO hilarious.

We are not laughing.


22 thoughts on “The winter storm that shut down the south isn’t funny.

  1. Shephard Smith on Fox News said, “We don’t do snow. We do hurricanes.” Think about the Hurricane Sandy event. ‘Nuf said?

    • Exactly, Carole! I think it’s worth noting that after Sandy, the Northeast was made fun of aplenty by Southerners who are accustomed to hurricanes, and I think those people were wrong to do so, as well. Situations like this always deserve compassion! Not ridicule.

  2. Wow! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I lived in Boston, NYC, and NJ for six years and drove a Honda Accord with NO PROBLEM ever. In Birmingham on Tuesday morning, my well equipped SUV had nothing for the glare ice and mountains. It was the scariest drive of my life. My five year old in the backseat. Making it up the northern face of Shades Mnt on I65 S to only know I had to make it down the southern face just as a tractor trailer jackknifed in front of us. Seeing people slide and wreck within inches of you and your child. Knowing if we wrecked we should be ok, unless we fall into the ravine, roll, get crashed into by another 18 wheeler, or God forbid a fire starts. I got my car off into a ditch and started walking with half of Birmingham and travelers from everywhere. People from Indiana, Minnesota and Conneticut also had a car in a ditch. We stayed at the base of the mountain in motel. We were the lucky ones. It was a horrible situation, but wow, we all took care of each other and made friendships that will last a lifetime! Laugh all you want, but it was bad. One thing I realized about the South during this storm, we don’t wait for help or whine and scream about no one coming to help. We help ourselves. Our police and fire departments are amazing. They organized the rescue of 1000s from the interstate. They took the school buses and they saved lives. People opened doors to motel rooms to complete strangers. We shared food, soap, blankets. We smiled and laughed. We made it through and for
    those who didn’t…our hearts break.

    • Thank you so much for commenting, Sherry! I can’t imagine what a nightmare that was for you, especially having your kid in the car. And you are exactly right about all the Good Samaritans, police, and emergency personnel. The whole event was horrible, but it is so reassuring and heartwarming to hear these amazing stories of strangers helping strangers. In the midst of all this hate and ridicule coming from commentators on TV and the internet, it is so good to be reminded that kindness still exists in people. I’m so glad that you and your child got through it and had a safe, warm place to stay in the end.

      • It was a nightmare, but honestly it was the best one we could have had. We skipped and slid down the mountain, we smiled and waved at people who looked upset or annoyed. We laughed at ourselves and threw snowballs. We are at Waffle House, exchanged numbers with people who didn’t have shelter. We tweeted and retweeted who needed what and where. It was truly amazing to watch people come together. We all went out of our comfort zones and we all smiled when we passed each other. I would say we come through this as a more united city. My husband is a Firefighter/medic in your hometown! We will be very happy to see him tomorrow for the first time for (except for the few hours when he and to rescue us) since Sunday night when we went to bed!
        Again thank you for writing!

  3. I have read this post several times and am so happy someone put in on Facebook so I could access it. You may just be my new favorite person! LOL. Seriously, I am extremely impressed with your writing and words of wisdom. For lack of a better way to put it, you go girl! 🙂
    I could not have described the issues in Alabama and Georgia any better…
    Valerie (Hoover, AL — near Birmingham)

    • Well gosh, you’re making me blush! I’m so glad that I could write something that resonated with you and others affected by the storm. I know exactly where Hoover is! I grew up in Homewood. Hope you were safe and at home when all of this went down.

  4. THIS. Thank goodness there are people like you writing and living in the north with experience from the south – and I’m not just referring to the weather. As one of many teachers who spent the night at school, reading and hearing negative comments regarding our ignorance from people outside of the deep south simply made/makes me shake my head. One can’t make a person understand what they’ve never experienced first hand & empathy and compassion cannot be taught until a similar experience happens to them. For the record, if any one, be they from Canada or Pennsylvania or Colorado and beyond, finds themselves trapped in a southern weather emergency situation (tornado, hurricane, *snow*, etc.), we’ll be glad to help you, take you in, feed you, clothe you, and befriend you – whether you like “our ways” or not. That’s how we ALL handled it down here over the past few days and that’s why I love my South.

    • Thank goodness for people like YOU! I have friends who couldn’t get to their children in day care and school, and what I heard from all of them is that they were worried, of course, but also comforted that their teachers stayed (because I know some had the choice to leave and didn’t) to take care of their kids and make sure they were safe and unafraid. Hearing all of the stories of strangers going out of their way to help each other has made me miss the South like crazy. So thank YOU. You are one of the people that makes it such a special place.

  5. As a BAMA raised girl who has lived in NYC, MI, and the Austrian Alps, I completely agree with your opinion. People wreck and slide off roads everywhere. We were blindsided by this and were not able to get somewhere safe fast enough. I drove 3 blocks to my son’s school to get him when it had just begun snowing and by the time I got home, there were already dozens of wrecks in our small, but hilly neighborhood in Chattanooga, Tn. No one could stop at the bottom of hills, even going 20 mph!! I lived in NYC when a small tornado came through and flooded the subway a few years back. Talk about mass chaos for a few days up there! My southern husband and I were cool, calm, and collected during and after the storm and I don’t remember seeing the kind of compassion and kindness to each other like us southerners do after such an event. People just like to feel superior with their thoughtless comment, like you said. BTW, loved the 90* picnic weather comment 😉

    • Thank you, Lauren! Wrecks happen all the time on ice, even in places where it’s common! The first snow of the season here in Pittsburgh is ALWAYS a mess of wrecks and traffic jams. My husband has told me stories of watching cars sliding down hills here, pinging off parked cars like they’re in a pinball machine. I don’t know why people can’t remember that and exercise some understanding. Side note: I lived in New Jersey right across the river from Manhattan for six months, and I was never there for a disaster, but I rarely saw the kind of kindness that is commonplace in the South. I don’t want to make a blanket statement and say no one in NJ/NY is kind–I’m sure they are–but I totally left there as an angry, distrustful asshole with a bad case of road rage. And I was only there for 6 months. I think it’s maybe a symptom of having way too many people packed into way too small a space. But I’m just speculating.

    • Yes it is! I was so happy when they finally put “Sweet Home Alabama” on the license plates. Don’t know why they resisted it for so long. I was sad when I moved out of state and had to change it, but I kept it and have it in my home office!

  6. Awww, well I meant every word. I truly wish more people would write articles like yours. We are getting so many ignorant and negative comments about how we as Southerners dealt with the disaster. There are numerous accounts of heroism and people working together to help others, and I had hoped there would be more focus of those positive aspects.
    My story is tame compared to most other ones…
    I was able to slide around and pick up my daughter from her preschool before things turned so crazy. Had I left even thirty minutes later, I would have been walking to her school. She goes to a church kindergarten where several teachers and volunteers stayed with sixteen kids overnight. I am just so fortunate that her school is not even a mile away from our house! The roads became so icy and dangerous within such a short time…it was extraordinary to be honest. I have an SUV and luckily know how to drive in conditions like we had but even so, it was hardly possible without the proper tired and the roads getting so slick so fast. I’m still feeling so very thankful we made it. Thanks for letting me share my story. So many people I know had to stay in shelters, schools, churches or with kind strangers who opened their homes. And you know about those poor folks who were stuck in their cars. Hoover school buses rose behind a sand truck on parts on the interstates looking for people to help and shuttle to shelters. You would be proud of the many ways people pulled together. Facebook and other social media outlets were instrumental during the chaos! Well, that’s all for me. I was planning to write a short note. Ha! Btw, such a small world you being from Homewood! 🙂
    Have a nice weekend and thanks again!

    • It does make me SO proud! The stories of all these anonymous heroes have been the bright spot in all of this. The most extreme one I saw on Facebook was a man who is a helicopter pilot who picked people up and flew them back to their homes! And there’s of course the doctor who walked six miles to perform life-saving brain surgery, and then all the smaller, but just as important, stories of strangers picking up strangers on their 4-wheelers, opening their homes to stranded drivers, delivering food and water on foot…it goes on and on. Truly spectacular. Thank you for sharing your story! I’m so glad you were able to get your daughter and be safe at home.

  7. Truth! Someone shared this link on FB and when I saw your name, I knew it would be good! My daughter spent the night at her high school with 799 of her classmates because I live 12 miles away, her dad’s house is 13 miles away, and there are countless hills, slopes, valleys, and ditches between that were impassable. Let the Northerners laugh ~ we know what it is like down here, we band together and do what it takes to get through it, and we move on to the next thing … with grace and good humor.
    Enjoyed this piece – and wish you well up there in Pittsburgh!
    Mrs. Bryan – former “little old office lady” – HHS

    • Oops, pressed reply too soon! Also wanted to say thank god for your daughter and the other teachers who volunteered to stay at their schools. Like you said, the displays of kindness that came out of this are truly amazing. It makes me miss my hometown like crazy. Luckily, Pittsburgh is filled with some kind, great people, too. It reminds me of Birmingham in a lot of ways, and I feel so lucky that I ended up in a place that feels almost like home. I hope you’re doing well, and it was amazing to hear from you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s