Saturday, February 21, 2015

Things That Annoy Me #3

As I mentioned, we have been dealing with aftermath of a significant ice storm here. It is sleeting again right now. (Well it was last night when I started typing. Now it's just raining. Hard. Yay flood watch!) We don't get snow every year and we only get significant snow a few times a decade. As a result our governmental response to snow events is not what you would find in, say, Michigan. This seems obvious and reasonable to me, but this bit of knowledge seems to elude others.

There are two things you need to understand about snow in the South. The first is that most of the time our snow comes with a hefty serving of ice. A typical Southern snowstorm goes something like this: the temperatures are in the mid-30s when it starts raining, the temperatures drop and the rain turns to freezing rain which turns to sleet which turns to snow. We almost always have ice accumulation underneath whatever snow we get. Driving on ice is always much trickier than driving on snow no matter where you are.

The second thing about snow in the South is that the vast majority of the time snow today is gone by lunch tomorrow and years can pass without significant accumulation. Since this is true, we do not invest a lot of money into making our world functional with snow. The standard response is to brine the roads, hope the rain doesn't wash it all way, hope the temperature doesn't drop below the freezing point of the brine, and wait it out.  Most of the time, this approach works just fine. Then there are weeks like this one. Weeks where it would be really useful to have snowplows and snow chains. Nashville has some plows and the state has some plows, but most smaller cities and towns do not. Even the plows that are available cannot cover the streets affected. The state and the city work to clear the interstates and that is about it.


My town is a slightly odd kind of place. There are a ton of people who come from other places. In fact I would be willing to say that the population of non-native Tennesseans is significantly higher than natives. Why is this? Twenty something years ago, GM built a plant here and brought with them huge numbers of people from Michigan. This has been a mixed blessing. It's great to have the plant in town, but when the deal was struck all those years ago, GM promised to hire a certain percentage of locals into their workforce and then, mostly, didn't. The locals felt like GM had been given a sweetheart deal on land and taxes and in exchange, the locals received a large influx of people from a different area of the country with different cultural habits making wages they could only dream about at jobs they were locked out of. The stated reason the plant never got around to hiring the locals had something to do with the UAW contract. The price of real estate skyrocketed while the newly-moved Michiganers clucked about how cheap the housing was. The locals, understandably, were very resentful. The new arrivals didn't understand why their arrival was met with such frigidity. The reason they didn't understand was because the imported UAW workers mostly had no idea the plant was built on the assumption that the locals would be hired to work in it. While this is a bit of old history, it is the basis of an undercurrent of hostility that runs through here. After twenty-something years I suppose it is safe to say that the transplants are now locals and the promised economic development eventually came, but the way it all unfolded is not the way it was anticipated. And you would be surprised how many GM workers still consider themselves on a temporary assignment in an exotic locale.


So we had an ice storm this week. It was forecast well in advance so people had time to stock up and prepare. We knew that once it started it would likely be several days before we could leave the house again.

Our neighbors from the North lost few opportunities to tell how we were doing it all wrong. It was staggering the number of people who complained about the lack of snow plows and the fact that the local governments didn't do a whole lot to clear the roads.

"Up North, they would have had this cleared in an afternoon."
You aren't up North.

"You know, if you plowed the streets in the afternoon when the ice is slushier, it wouldn't refreeze overnight."
Really? Who would have thought plowing the streets would clear them?

"If you had snow chains, you'd have better traction."
What an interesting idea that is. Why, I never would have thought of that if you hadn't told me.

Why should municipalities spend the money for all the required equipment to clear a storm such as this when they only come our way about twice a decade? It's folly and a misappropriation of funds. We do not have snow tires or chains. I am not sure I have ever seen chains on a car in real life. Why should we buy them for the once-off chance to use them?

It's not that we don't know that plows and chains would make dealing with snow and ice easier. We know. It is the assumption that they need to bestow this knowledge on our poor benighted souls that is so grating. Contrary to popular belief, we aren't all stupid. It isn't that we have never thought of these grand ideas. It's that it is silly to spend the money on it around here.

Then there were boasts where people would claim, "I'm from the North, I know how to drive in this weather," as if being from a certain location magically gives you the ability to navigate on ice. Guess what? If all four of your tires are on a solid sheet of ice, it doesn't matter where you are from, you are going nowhere unless you are driving a Zamboni. Not to mention our hills. Is it even possible to drive up and down hills with no road traction?

And there are the condescending reassurances. "I'm from the North and if I say the roads are bad, they're bad!" Like the stupid Southerners could not figure out it is impossible to drive on ice. Or more likely signalling to fellow Northerners that it's not just the panicky Southerners who are having trouble.

But most annoying of all is the blase tut-tutting of the excitement snow generates around here. They roll their eyes and yuk it up at how the locals get excited over the snow. As if snow is a big deal or something. "You know up North, we got this much snow every week and nobody cared, nothing closed over it, and we went to work and school on a regular schedule." Whoopie for you.

Yes. Southerners get excited over snow. It is an event here. It isn't something we can count on seeing every year. We cancel school and close offices and go play in the snow while we wait for it to melt. I'm glad to live in a place where snow is exciting and not a daily drudgery. No, we don't remove it very effectively or efficiently. We also *know* the removal is not very efficient. It would be silly to spend our money in that way.

So if you live in the North and someday decide to move to the South, please do not regale your new neighbors with tales of how the North handles their snow. And I promise if I ever move to the North, I will not roll my eyes when my new neighbors start telling me that 80 degrees is hot.


bearing said...

I sort of have the opposite experience, since I grew up in southwestern Ohio (where it snows and accumulates most winters, but not TONS every single winter) and moved to Minneapolis, where the expectation is that there will be a significant amount of snow most winters, including one or two 12+" storms to be expected every year; also that it will be quite cold.

I never take Minneapolis snow removal for granted. This city, in my opinion, does a fantastic job. I am aware that it is quite expensive for us, and that the cost is variable which makes budgeting difficult, but in my opinion they give us excellent service for our money. The major routes are all plowed to the curbs within 24 h of a storm and our residential streets and alleys are all plowed down to pavement within three days. (St. Paul spends a lot less, gets identical weather, and their plowing is really crappy.) And the snow is removed, not just plowed, at least until they run out of places to put it.

Is it perfect? No. There's always going to be some annoyance about slush and snow and ice, and occasionally some weather combination comes along that makes it pretty yucky. For example, one winter we got 21" on Christmas Day and the city did not begin plowing till the next day; this created a packed base layer, and so there was a slippery layer under the snow that stayed till April. That only made me appreciate what a good job they usually do.

Of course it doesn't make sense to remain prepared for rare weather events. What do SE coastal states keep on hand for hurricane preparedness? Rescue boats and such? Well, occasionally we get some flooding in MN, but nobody argues that we are stupid when flooding happens. I really think that some of what you are describing is part of the Northern bias against Southerners as well as a hefty dose of the common-everywhere fallacy of "bad things do not happen to good people."

Jenny said...

I agree with Bearing--as a New Orleanian, we've got hurricane preparedness (and evacuation) worked out pretty well... but snow? Of course not! As you say, it would be a foolish waste of money.

We usually get enough warning of an advancing hurricane to stock up on essentials (and then often, as you say, just wait out the inevitable power outages and such). As an even-further-Southerner than you, though, I will totally regale you with the "I had to turn on my a/c today" (seriously!) even though it's February! (While, admittedly, being a little jealous of your snow... my kids have never seen it--ever!)

Jenny said...

"(St. Paul spends a lot less, gets identical weather, and their plowing is really crappy.)"

I think it is a combination of the Northerner bias against Southerners and people wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Our property taxes are absurdly low. Really, really low. Like our house is under $1000 a year low. There are many reasons for the situation, but the major tradeoff is that there isn't enough money for everything you might like and some stuff you actually need. You don't want to know where the closest fire station is to my house. So people are pleased as punch to not shell out much money, but then gripe when they have to do without because of lack of funds.

Jenny said...


We had some friends who were from New Orleans and sadly moved back home. They lived here for about four years and they could never get used to our "cold" weather. They moved back for family reasons, but I also think the weather encouraged them along.

Jenny said...

It's always a grass-is-greener situation, isn't it? I had an acquaintance who moved down here from Alaska (!!) in, unfortunately, the summer... after one year, she & her family moved up to Pennsylvania--they just couldn't take the heat-and-humidity!