The Weather Channel is now naming winter storms. The current one is Khan, cutting an icy path across the south (ironically targeting the area where my folks moved this week to get away from just such inclement weather.) But Weather Channel, I beg you, stop naming the storms – you’re scaring the Southerners. I guarantee you, there’s not a loaf of Wonder Bread, a gallon of milk or a single D battery in their tri-state area.
My mother bought them all.
Some wintertime habits die hard for this Kentucky girl. Now I realize that in no way do Southern winters compare to those of Montana where annual snowfall is measured in feet. But believe it or not, Kentucky receives its fair share of winter precipitation which no one living in the state knows how to safely navigate. Instead, Kentuckians do the only reasonable thing they can think of: they shut the state down entirely until the snow melts.
A long standing tradition south of the Mason-Dixon Line is to head straight for the grocery store the moment the weather forecaster utters those fateful words: winter storm warning. Now a winter storm in Kentucky usually amounts to about three inches of snow, sleet and freezing rain, artfully layered for maximum infrastructure disruption. But the way Winn Dixie’s shelves are stripped bare of food you’d think we planned to be stranded for weeks on end. Gallons of milk and loaves of Wonder bread are ceremoniously rung up, bagged and handed off with a “Ya’ll drive safe now” before the first flake falls from the sky. It might still be 50 degrees outside but before they can start scrolling the weather alerts and anticipatory school closings across the bottom of the television screen, hungry residents, fearful of being stuck at home foodless, jam the parking lot of every grocery in the tri-state area.
Perhaps much of this stems back to the Great Snowfall of 1978, where the entire east coast was buried in a record setting precipitation. The good news was most of the winter quarter of my senior year in high school was cancelled. The bad news was we had to make all of it up in June and July. But I remember having to adapt that pioneer, can-do spirit and walk to the grocery in knee deep snow after that initial supply of milk and bread ran out. None of us would be caught with our snowpants down again.
With lessons learned, we’d all be ready when the next Big One arrived. Sad to say that did not happen for over 15 years. In 1994, another record setting snowfall shut down the state once again. The city of Louisville was particularly hard hit by the deluge of ice and snow. When it was time to summons the snow plows, the city encountered a major glitch: they couldn’t find them. Further investigation later revealed that the snow plows had been sold.
When I moved to Wyoming, I was in no way prepared for real winter. Watching the snow pile up to the window sill, I kicked back and waited for the word that county government would be shut down. I was perplexed to find that not only did I have to exhume my Nissan Sentra from beneath an enormous snow drift, but actually pilot it to work. Snow in Wyoming was a mere inconvenience, not something that forced the closure of infrastructure. Although I had procured my bread and milk allotment to ride out the storm, my neighbors did nothing of the sort. I was also shocked to find out that the schools were not closed due to inclement weather. In fact, the only time I can recall any disruption of the school schedule during my three years in the Cowboy State involved a pesky moose at a school bus stop.
Thinking that I now knew winter behavior, I headed east to the land of lake effect snows. At least in Wyoming after the snow, the fierce blue sky would break through. But along the shores of Lake Ontario, things were not the same. At the edge of the lake, the gray skies dispensed snow fast and furious which piled up faster than you could shovel it. Many times, we’d have to dig our way out of the house. Now at home with two babies, I added diapers to my supply list for winter storms. After being snowbound for two weeks and unable to navigate my 1984 Mercury Grand Marquis through the city streets, I knew I needed a better plan. So we donated the Mercury to charity, bought a 4-wheel drive truck and moved to Montana in a rather Clampett-like fashion.
I’ve now learned to heed the warnings with a grain of road salt. But my inner Girl Scout still insists that I be prepared. It’s a rare occasion that I have the urge to slap the chains on my pick-up, throw it in four-wheel drive and head down to the Safeway the moment the first meteorologist utters the “s” word. I know I’ll be okay. But don’t fret if you’ve forgotten to stop by the store. If you can make it to my house, I’ll always have enough bread and milk to share.