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 husband, 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.