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Anatomy of a Snow Event

For a multigenerational Texan, born and raised in Austin, I know an inordinate amount about snow, and not in that douchey, spring break in Aspen way. Until 1992, I’d seen a grand total of ½ inch, which is about par for the course for your average central Texan.

Then I made the still inexplicable decision to pass on UT and attend college in Maine. Maine is, without a doubt, a state that will leave an impression. Possessing a pretty two month summer and a one month autumn that truly defies description in beauty, the rest of the year is brutal winter, slushy spring, or mosquito season. Mainers, by nature, are taciturn, hardy, and despite what the media would have you believe about the upper east coast, able to red neck out with the best of Bubba. In Maryland, where I now live, a hip high school kid flaunts a 335i. In Lewiston High School, it’s a jacked F150 that would give Grave Digger’s owner penis envy. Maine, as I’ve discovered over the years, tends to gain respect from citizens of other states.

And, as the 20th Maine and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain would attest: Mainers never, EVER, lose to Alabama.

"Roll Tide? I think not."

Obviously, winter in Maine is tough, and comes with mountains of snow, plus bone chilling temperatures. It’s easy to appreciate how the Inuit came up with so many names for snow as each snow fall is unique. Yet, you rarely get a "snow event" in Maine, mostly because that’s just a typical Wednesday. A blizzard is typically a 12-18 inches, with white out conditions. People shop early, stay in, shovel their walks, and just deal professionally with the whole event. Power goes out. Neighbors band together at homes with stoves. Folks share four wheel drive vehicles (and know how to drive them), shovels, salt, and blowers. Plows are everywhere. Hospitals and grocery stores stay open. Schools close for a day, sometimes two. And you get lots of entertaining stories of the Blizzard of ‘78 and the Ice Storm of ‘98 over steaming bowls of clam chowder and outstanding microbrews.

Washington, D.C., OTOH, is a totally different story.

Three Days Out.

After a couple of days chattering about possible winter weather, the news broadcasters are suddenly a little more serious and mention "we could be in for some snow this weekend." The hot weather chick notes during the 6 pm forecast notes we could be looking at some accumulation this weekend as a storm in the south moves north. My mom sends me an e-mail saying it’s been pouring in Austin. People don’t notice.

Two Days Out

The news cracks out the old meteorologist that they normally save for serious weather events. He (or she) gravely mentions words like "coastal low" "computer simulations" "model" "serious accumulations". The anchor puts on a smile and inanely notes the kids sure are going to have fun sledding this weekend.

At this point, those of us that lived through a real blizzard know it’s time to go to the grocery and hardware store. Like hurricanes, big snow storms require planning, and more than the typical French toast disaster diet (milk, eggs, and bread). Time to get a shovel, meat, and items for one pot cooking if the power goes out and you have to use that camp stove you bought years ago when you took the girlfriend out for some nooky in the woods. Make sure you have a French press or camp coffee pot and pre grind your beans, because a blizzard induced power outage and caffeine withdrawal is a world class fail.

One Day Out

The news, staying with "If it bleeds, it leads," reports of fights over snow shovels, and does grocery store reports outside upscale neighborhoods, as the meteorologist keeps upping the inch totals to over 18 inches. The anchors now start warning folks to hoard food, blankets, and firewood. The local Fox station inevitably shows some gun shop in Nowhere, VA doing brisk business. If you’ve waited until now to shop, you’re screwed. Lines stretch all the way back to the meat counter. Shelves are stripped bare. You’d think New Year’s is nigh from the craziness at the liquor store.

Soviet Safeway, or Whole Foods in Georgetown?

"Soviet Safeway, or Whole Foods in Georgetown?"

Work is a shitstorm, the distant suburbanites put in for an extra day of vacation. The boss stalks the halls talking up how we’ll all tough it out and come in regardless of the weather. "It’ll be fun. We’re a real team. A squad. I’ve got your back, you’ve got mine."

Snow Storm: Day 1

You make provisions for early school closure and then hall your ass into work through some early flurries. Your boss, for all of his bravado, bails work two hours into the day. On his way by your office, he mentions the questionable plowing in his million dollar neighborhood and the poor traction on the S class. Douche-tastic. Eventually HR nuts up and calls work and everyone spills out into the chaos of unplowed streets and the entire federal employee base trying to flee back to Virginia or Maryland. Luckily, subway is running, and although it smells like a wet dog with gangrene, the commute ain’t so bad.

It’s still early, few inches down. Build a fire, make some stew, do some light shoveling, watch a movie. Hit the sack.

Snow Storm: Day 2

Oh, fuuuuuuuuuuck. There is a foot down and no slowing in sight. You down a quick cup of coffee and start shoveling the walkway. By the time you’re done, another inch has fallen and buried your work. The weathermen are FREAKING OUT as what looks like a hurricane sits off the North Carolina coast and just churns out moisture. Pathetic junior correspondents stand at street corners and stick rulers in the snow and note the unplowed road behind them is, indeed, unplowed. The mayor appears in a brand new Northface jacket and pledges to work around the clock. As if that jagoff is actually going to man a plow truck. This inevitably leads to retelling stories of Marion Berry losing snow plows or being in Hawaii during previous blizzards. Your single urban friends post facebook pictures of themselves at crowded hip bars in faux fur earflap hats and giggle about bars staying open all night.

Two shovelings later, you’re at twenty inches and it’s still coming down. This is when every Subaru and SUV owner in the region decides it’s time to justify 4X4 and head out to buy pickles. Watching people with no idea how to drive in the snow is entertaining until they start sliding towards you and the very cold, frightened dog you just took out for a walk. Look, a Land Rover has some extra clearance, a nifty traction system, and a powerful engine. None of that will help you stop when you hit ice going 30 miles an hour.

The kids at this point, despite initial excitement about the weather, found the snow unpackable and thus useless for sledding and snowballs, are now officially sick of each other, you, all the programming on Cartoon Network, and the entire Xbox 360 game catalogue. When you suggest early bedtime, they gladly accept, if for nothing else as a release from the boredom of being cooped up all day.

Snow Storm: Day 3

Car dig out day. After 26 inches of snow, you will be spending all day digging out your car and the drive way. Digging snow is exhausting, tedious work, with none of the "look what a hardy man I am" machismo of other manual labor like splitting wood or mowing the lawn. It does allow for some good bonding with the neighbors, and that ale tastes good at the end of the day, but the shoulder bursitis you’ll wake up with tomorrow morning will give lingering memories for the coming weeks.

"This is my actual car. No snark here. Move along."

The news starts warning people not to run kerosene heaters or generators inside, which I think is NOT doing the community a service, since any Darwin award winner that would run an internal combustion engine inside their house is from the very shallow end of the gene pool.

Day 4-5

That vague warning of more snow that the forecaster mentioned during Day 1 turns out to be another full blown blizzard. Streets are still barely plowed from previous storm. Work and school, cancelled for two more days. 12 more inches fall, this time with 40 mph winds to boot, meaning you can’t even go outside. The dog tries to hold it all day and eventually forces you to dig a path in the backyard just so it can take a dump. You start drinking at 10 in the morning, because there is literally nothing else to do. I now understand why Mainers speak so infrequently, as people start to grate on your nerves and silence is the best preventative against violence.

The upshot is you get a lot of frisky bedroom activity from the girl, as she’s as bored as you and having sex is about the only thing left to break the monotony.

Day 6.

Sweet sunshine. The final dig out commences. Snow ices up enough for sledding. Rumblings of return to work and school, which is great, because your kids hate you so much now that they are actively asking when school will reopen so they can get away. At this point, the cupboard contains a box of mac and cheese, some cheap tequila, and a can of cream of celery soup. The storm has magically turned you back into a bachelor!!!

The last week could have been worse: I didn’t run out of supplies or pass out and freeze to death in a snow bank. I played alot of xbox, caught up on some 30 Rock, and watched a pretty good coming of age flick "Adventureland." I managed to kill a bottle of tequila, two six packs of beer, and three bottles of wine, so whoever eventually treats me for cirrhosis will think fondly of this time.

I also have a pretty firm understanding of Jack Torrance and I’m empathizing with his actions much more actively these days, haunted hotel or not. Getting four days of vacation to be stuck in your own living room is not exactly paradise.

I think Jack was just misunderstood.

"I think Jack was just misunderstood."

Add your own weather induced tales of woe. Or tell me how your cold wintery community would laugh off 38 inches of snow in 4.5 days.