Vol.#79: Southern Snow Days

It was just after Thanksgiving in 1985. My family had just relocated from Newton, New Hampshire to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I was in fourth grade, my younger sister in first.

Our first week there, my mother received phone calls from some horrified very concerned teachers. Where were our gloves? Scarves? Boots? Winter coats? I mean it was almost December! Of course, temperatures would have been in the 60s, which would have been May weather for us. Coats? You’re lucky we’re not here in shorts.

“Map: How Much Snow Cancels School?” via The Atlantic

Here in NC we have only attended school on both Mondays the past two weeks.  During these eight snow days, I have seen lots of commentary on social media about the “Southern Snow Day” phenomenon. The Atlantic did a piece last year with a Map: “How Much Snow It Takes to Cancel School in the US”. They made sure to make the point that it’s more about infrastructure than fortitude of citizens.

Still, comments like, “We’d love that forecast up here in Maine!”  or  “We have six inches more than you and we’re still going to school here in Massachusetts.” were lobbed at those of us holed up in our homes by mere whispers of winter weather.  “We just have a different mindset up here,” one friend of a friend posted.

No. False. It’s much more than your “mindset”. It’s a result of societal, environmental, and biological differences.

A society decides on what to spend its collective revenues. It’s not worth investing in salt trucks and sand trucks and arsenals of snow plows to maintain the roads full-time when your state doesn’t get snow for three weeks, let alone three months. Boston and Nashville are of similar size in population, but it would not make sense for their budgets to allocate similar funds to snow management.

Image Credit: Flickr User TrackHead
Image Credit: Flickr User TrackHead

The environment here surrounding a snow event is also different. It gets warm enough here during the day to remelt the snow. Then snowmelt refreezes at night, making a treacherous black ice glaze. It’s not that “southerners can’t drive on snow” because it quickly becomes sheets of ice. Northerners aren’t going to drive on that either, even with your fancy snow tires. And of course all our school districts need is one bus to slide on our ill-prepared roads to be open to litigation.

The panicked run to the grocery store that makes the news is not the overreaction northerners think it is either – we may or may not be able to get there for weeks. They can roll their eyes if they want, but I and many colleagues were stranded at our schools with students overnight due to these sheets of ice resulting from the mere half-inch of snow in 2006. I’m going to go ahead and get bread and milk, m’kay?

Finally, there’s the biological differences I experienced first hand at nine years old. I wore shorts that first winter, but wouldn’t now. Our blood thins/thickens due to where we live. People adapt to their environment. There are more heat stroke stories from the north than the south in the summer. They just aren’t as adapted when temps spike. It doesn’t mean southerners should take to social media to call them “wimps” for it.

A month into that first school year on Hilton Head Island in 1985, it “snowed” with the lightest dusting. School completely stopped and everyone went outside. The fourth and fifth grades were in mobiles, and I remember so clearly how teachers and students were running around, laughing, delighted….

I had just moved from New Hampshire. One could literally see the ground right though this “snow”. I didn’t get it.

It had not snowed on the island in over a decade. My classmates, unless they had moved like I, had never seen this stuff fall from the sky in their entire lifetime and might not again until their twenties.

It was  a big deal.   I didn’t get it then.

I do now.



2 thoughts on “Vol.#79: Southern Snow Days”

  1. Thanks for the smile this morning. You might want to check some facts before you rant. As a Southern born girl, who transplanted North, I know the differences in how people react to weather in both places.

    However, let’s stick to the facts. You said , ” There are more heat stroke stories from the north than the south in the summer.” The CDC disagrees with you. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr076.pdf Their stats say, ” Most of the heat-related deaths
    occurred in the South and West (43%
    and 33%, respectively)” You can also view this map of heat related illnesses. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/map.html

    The whole idea of thick versus thin blood in the North versus the South is also a myth. Read a NY Times question about this here http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/science/how-does-blood-thickness-affect-body-temperature.html or this article from the Sun Sentinel http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2011-01-21/news/fl-thin-blooded-floridians-20110121_1_community-blood-centers-south-florida-blood-thickness.

    As far as your other thoughts, I don’t have ‘fancy’ snow tires. I drive with the same tires all year long. I do drive a 4 wheel drive, but I know many people who don’t. My daughter drives a minivan and drives 15 miles to take her daughter to and from kindergarten or to go to work. I suppose some people may have snow tires, but it isn’t common place.

    My county is poor. They plow & sand(sometimes salt, but rarely, due to environmental concerns and the expense) the main roads but side roads in the country and side streets in town, are NEVER salted or sanded. They are snowpacked all winter. Our buses make it because our bus drivers are amazing. Our district is a little larger than the state of Rhode Island geographically, but we only have just over 700 students K-12. They live 60+ miles from school, on roads that are seldom plowed. Kids don’t wear winter coats or boots. Even when we have sledding parties at school, many show up with a hooded sweatshirt and sneakers.

    When I started reading your blog post, I smiled and thought, “Yeah, we do kind of give Southerners a hard time.” But as I read further, I realized you were just ranting without having checked your facts.

    Life down South and Life up North are worlds apart in many ways. But don’t make assumptions and false statements to boost your opinion. I get how exciting snow is. I am a Southern girl meant to live in snow. I still get excited when the weather warning scrolls across the TV screen. .We are supposed to get 6 inches during the day today and I am giddy with excitement and anticipation. But I know we won’t get sent home early, I know the teacher parking lot will be deep with drifts and I didn’t wear boots, so my socks will get wet, I know that my driveway will be a mess, and I know the side streets in town won’t be plowed nor will the back roads out of town. Maybe the mess will be cleaned up by tomorrow morning, maybe it won’t.

    We are only allotted 6 snow days a year by the state and we rarely go over. The decision to close or open school is not taken lightly but we just rarely close. We have two snow days in a row a week ago because our air temps in the morning were below the magic cutoff of -25 and day temps/wind chills were supposed to remain in that brutal zone. But then last week when temps were that cold in the morning, but daytime temps were supposed to raise into negative teens, we did have school, without even a delay.

    It isn’t about being tougher. It is just a reality. Maybe we shouldn’t poke fun at you folks. But the tables turn in the summer and we are moaning and groaning about the heat without any air conditioning. I am sure you’d find it hilarious that when the temps get over 75 I turn on my bedroom window unit (I know no one with central air!! Our school has NOT air conditioning, so even on days it hits 90, we just sweat.) and set the thermostat on 60 and hover by it, swearing I am going to die. Southerners would be sporting a hoodie to keep warm 😉

    So go ahead and be annoyed that the North pokes fun at the South, but let’s stick to the facts,.


    1. Thank you for your comment and links. The article of taking blood thinning medicine aside as it was less relevant, the other was interesting. It talks about physiological changes like slowing metabolism and changes in fat – physiological adaptations from climate – as opposed to blood viscosity changes. I may have attributed it to the wrong biological terminology, but this fact still proves my point about adaptation to where they live. Another article explains the science behind the “blood thinning/thickening” myth clearly…

      “Still, blood is part of the body’s thermoregulation system. In cold weather, surface capillaries get smaller, pushing warm blood deeper into the body to help keep it toasty. In warm weather, more blood fills those capillaries so heat can escape through the skin. So if your vascular system gets used to year-round warmth, and then in January you board a plane to upper Minnesota, it’ll take time for your blood delivery system to readjust. For a while, you’ll feel like the cold you left behind is colder than you remember.”

      So, while thin/thick blood was inaccurate terminology on my part, the adaptation I’m talking about in the post is a very real fact. This, with the metabolism facts from your link, explain the scientific facts of adaptation to temperature really well.

      You argue that your weather is worse, but your roads aren’t any better prepared. Your citizens aren’t adapted any differently yet don’t need to actually dress for the weather. This defies all logic and reason. I’ve lived in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. People don’t (can’t) drive and park in deep unplowed snow. Add it’s too cold to remelt there before refreezing into ice instead of snow, a main point of mine you did not address. Preparing for snow in the north is a must, even in poor counties, just like air conditioners are in our poorest schools in the south. The fact that you have “deep drifts that might be cleared by tomorrow” for example, would never happen here.

      You asked for facts. The facts are that Michigan DOT had $100 million added in its total budget for “special winter road maintenance in 2014.” Counties received $39.1 million just to offset winter costs. This is more than your cities received ($21.8 million), likely because you are poorer. Poor does not equal you do not have a winter budget. The fact is your state DOT is taking care of you.

      The fact that you are from the south and find 75 degrees hot also proves my point.
      You’ve adapted.




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