My First Snowdrift

We’re having a snow day here in Northern Alabama, which means drivers panicking and people buying up all of the bread and toilet paper while people from, say, Boston just shake their heads and laugh. In honor of the snow day, here’s my first ever experience with a snowdrift ten years ago.

When I woke up this morning, someone had replaced my world with a white one.

As a rule, Southerners don’t have much experience with snow. We tend to look at snowstorms bemusedly. They’re like your eccentric uncle who only stops by every once in a while, causing an uproar while he’s here, delighting the kids and bothering the adults, then leaving a day or two later. His visits are so infrequent that each one is an event to be remembered and talked about, preferably in capitalized words. “I remember the Snowstorm of Eighty-Three.”

When I was growing up in Arkansas, it only snowed about every three or four years, and then only a few inches. Our schools never planned for snow days — why plan for something which happens once or twice a decade? Still, I loved snow. As soon as it would start falling, I’d drag out my cold weather clothes. Mom would always make sure Andrew and I had layers and layers of clothes on before letting us out into the arctic wasteland of Arkadelphia, Arkansas. She was undoubtedly afraid we’d lose our way in the half-inch upon half-inch of snow. Our visits outdoors involved more checklists than a Shuttle flight. Boots with fuzzy lining? Check. Toboggan cap with “Cheerios” printed across it? Check. Long underwear? Check. Big fluffy coat? Check. Warm gloves that make your hands about as maneuverable as a Radio Shack Armatron? Check. Water-proof ski pants? (I never did get to go skiing, but I had the pants.) Check.

And then it was out into the newly-white world, where Andrew and I would toss snowballs, make snow angels, and chase each other through the snow. When my dad could, he’d stay home and join in the chasing and the throwing and the making of snow angels. If only we’d had enough snow to make a really good snowman, we’d have been set.

I’d never seen large amounts of snow, except in pictures and the occasional James Bond movie. When we went to Alaska I saw cars with power cords, so that owners could plug in their cars at night and keep the engine from freezing up or the engine block from cracking. Huh, I thought. Imagine it being that cold. Imagine having that much snow.

Several years back I moved to North Carolina. North Carolina gets more snow than Arkansas, which is like saying, “We get more rain than the Sahara.” The first winter I was here we had a minor ice storm which shut things down for a day or so.

Then this year we had a system of winter storms move across the state. Last week ice and snow shut down schools and some businesses for about a day. On Sunday more ice closed churches. Local TV channels covered the weather with the seriousness and focus such media outlets reserve for forces of nature. They dubbed the event “Winter Storm 2000.”

They should have saved that caption.

The phone call came early this morning from my friend. Have you looked outside? There’s snow. I guess we won’t be going into work today.

I knew it had snowed overnight — it had begun snowing by the time I drove home last night. But I didn’t realize how much had fallen.

I had to go outside. I just had to. I pulled on several layers of clothes, including the aforementioned ski pants, which I still have. Mom would be so proud. Properly attired for the weather, I proceeded to open the door.

It wouldn’t open.

I shoved harder. The door slowly gave ground. I stuck my head outside.

The snow on our porch was so deep it was blocking the door.

(Let me pause for a moment. I realize that, for many of you, this is not a big deal. Well, pooh on you. I’ve never been anywhere when more than about three or four inches of snow had fallen.)

I stepped outside into a timeless world. The wind was blowing gently, pushing small flakes of snow to the south. The snow came up past my shins. I closed the door and fairly bounded down the stairs to the street below. In my head I heard Snow! Snow! Snow! Snow! with each crunchy step I took.

My car. Someone had taken my car and replaced it with a big mound of snow. I scraped my glove along it, revealing a stretch of blue paint like ice at the heart of a glacier.

There was a snowdrift between our car and my downstairs neighbor’s car. I’d never seen a snowdrift before. There was enough snow for the wind to sculpt into mounds.

I wandered out into the middle of my street and turned my back to the wind. The little flakes of snow drifted past me, turning and tumbling. There was one set of tire tracks in the street. Someone with a truck and a greater sense of urgency than I had driven somewhere. Where the tires had passed a thin ribbon of ice was left.

It was quieter than I’d ever heard Durham be before. I live near downtown, so I can always hear cars passing. Now all I heard was the hiss of falling snow and the cling-ling-ling of the windchimes back at my apartment.

I tromped down my street to the next one. Behind me were the deep depressions of my footprints. I paused to look at my tracks. Everywhere I stepped I was leaving a slurry of ice and trampled snow.

When I looked up, I noticed that a tree had fallen over, torn down by the weight of the snow. There was probably a chance I’d lose power.

I ignored the problem and caught several snowflakes on my tongue.

As I went tramping back towards home and heat, I saw someone else tramping along their street. She was bundled up like me, with a fuzzy blue stocking cap and a bright coat. We waved. Neither of us felt like shouting to each other.

Misty’s in Atlanta on a business trip. She’s supposed to come home tonight. I wonder if she’ll be able to make it, or if RDU airport is now just a large white field with a big sign sticking up out of it which reads, “PLANES GO HOME.”

I fall down in the snow and try to make a snow angel. The snow swallows my head. When I get up, the wind dusts me off. I’m beginning to dream of hot chocolate.

I should be more serious. The snow is causing all kinds of problems. One of my co-workers hoped to get a large chunk of his thesis data today. Misty is no doubt stranded in Atlanta. The power could go off any second, robbing me of light and heat.

I’m sure it’s just the cold wind keeping me smiling like this.

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14 Comments

  1. on January 7, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Oh, man, you’ve got to come visit Montreal some fine day in early February. 🙂 We’ll have snow *and* -25C plus wind-chill. Not quite Alaska, but they also don’t get the winds that we do.

  2. on January 7, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    The furthest north I’ve lived is 36 degrees N. I’m pretty sure if I visited you next month, I’d end up shattering like a Terminator.

  3. on January 7, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations! How deep is it?

  4. on January 7, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    We’ve got accumulations of up to at least 3 or 4 mm!

  5. on January 7, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t 3-4mm less than you were saying you would sometimes get as a kid in Arkansas?

  6. on January 7, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    It’s still early here!

    I just realized that you might have been asking about what I wrote about the Durham snowstorm ten years ago. That was about 20 inches of snow.

  7. Chrissy
    on January 7, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I was stuck inside my apartment with my classroom guinea pig and Jon was stuck in San Diego with Seth during that snowstorm. It was so neat to see that much snow when I woke up that morning. Growing up in Durham, I had never experienced that amount of snowfall, only in my childhood dreams, of course.

  8. on January 7, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Heh, whoops. By the time I got to the end of the story, I’d forgotten that we were in the past tense.

  9. Andrew Plotkin
    on January 7, 2010 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    For the record, I moved to Durham during that snowstorm. That was… interesting.

  10. on January 7, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    I’d forgotten that that was when you made the move. Yikes.

  11. Mom
    on January 7, 2010 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the chuckle, my Son. I had forgotten how I made you and your brother wear so many layers when you went out to play in our “tiny” bit of snow. Your blog brought back many memories and made my laugh at myself at how overly protective I was of you and Andrew. Thanks for bringing sunshine to my soul this dreary day.
    Mom

  12. on January 8, 2010 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    Mom, you can’t have been too overprotective, because this afternoon I did the same to Eli and Liza!

  13. Lisa
    on January 8, 2010 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    That was great, Stephen! The first chuckle I had in the post was reading about the run on bread and TP. That was true here in B’more, too, back in the day. A friend of mine (from DC) and I laughed this year about how snow prep has changed in this area. Now the run is on produce! Several days after the last storm I stood in the middle of the veggie section, shaking my head and laughing out loud at the almost completely denuded shelves!

  14. on January 9, 2010 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    You should see what Sam wore out yesterday. With his skipants and layers he looked like he belonged in “A Christmas Story” (we have 25 inches on the ground and counting.