North Carolina has never figured out snow

As I write this, the Triad and communities across North Carolina are doing their typical ‘run to the store for bread, rush home before any white stuff touches the road, cancel everything’ routine. While the damage might be far less than a tornado or hurricane, nothing is more crippling to a southern city than winter weather.

On countless occasions, before the Twitter era, I would toss and turn the night a “winter storm” was scheduled to approach in anticipation of not having school the next day. I probably got my wish nine times out of 10. A 20-inch snowstorm that hit Raleigh in January 2000 kept us out of school for a week. This year, Guilford County Schools has missed six days of instruction with this latest dusting. Snow days are awesome for kids, trust me I know. But it’s not awesome for parents who work but aren’t able to because they have to be home with their children. And later it really won’t be awesome for families if they end up having to make up days during Spring Break—days that had already been booked with plane reservations six months ago.

It’s also not awesome for motorists. I recently had a discussion with a friend who spent time in South Dakota when she was in college about snow’s Kryptonite-like impact on North Carolina. She said what bothered her most was the fact that people around here don’t know how to drive in snow. She makes an important point, but in fairness the only place in the state that generally gets more than 10 inches of snow a year is in the mountains. We also don’t get powder only.

It’s generally of the mixed bag variety that includes snow, sleet, freezing rain and whatever else the almighty one decides to torture us with (my dad is a meteorologist, so he probably has a better explanation for this than I do).

To put in perspective how pathetic North Carolina’s handling of snow is, consider that the state DOT website states that we usually spend about $30 million per year for winter weather. However this increased to $65 million in 2010-2011 and $50 million the following year due to “above average snowfall.” Compare that with $48 million budgeted this year for the entire state of Massachusetts during what has been a particularly harsh winter for them. Like Guilford County, Boston city schools have also missed six days this year. For them it is a new record. For us, an annual tradition. Not having enough plows sounds like a convenient excuse for why we just can’t handle it, but it really isn’t one when you look at the numbers.

You would think with all of the northern migrants living here now we would have figured out snow by now. But maybe what we really need is an education campaign designed to help people understand that snow is not lava. We don’t need to tell people to go out and buy four-wheel drives or space heaters. We don’t need to tell people to plan on sleeping in their offices the night before winter weather is scheduled to come. But we do need to help people understand that if you do choose to drive in winter weather, it should be done with extreme caution. We do need to improve our snow removal plans so that the side streets get cleared immediately after the main roads in case a cold week like the last one comes and refreezes standing water night after night. We do need to encourage people to do their grocery shopping at least three days before scheduled inclement weather.

Since we don’t live on the coast, it would perhaps be better to put more of our inclement weather preparations on winter weather than on hurricanes. I think given the past couple of winters we could really use it. Ultimately the odds on any given day in January or February might be heavily against snow or ice, but on the rare occasion it does happen, North Carolina becomes a true no man’s land. !