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North Carolina’s Dirty Little Secret

December 16, 2010

I woke up this morning to a mostly snow-covered world. Every time we have the potential for any winter weather in North Carolina, everyone goes into panic mode. The grocery stores run out of milk, bread and hot chocolate mix. People watch TV incessantly waiting for school to be cancelled.

Other areas of the country find it amusing that southerners panic at the mere mention of snow or ice. They think we’re pansies for not being able to drive in the snow and argue that they never cancel school unless the doors into the school are blocked by at least 20 feet of snow. But I’ve noticed a couple of things about how and why people in North Carolina panic about snow and ice.

Snow Driving

If this were in NC, they'd get in a wreck in about 2 seconds.

First, most of the people living in North Carolina are not native southerners. It’s a well-known fact that in this area it’s pretty hard to actually find a native southerner any more. Most people have moved here for school or work from areas of the country that get more snow in a single day than North Carolina gets in a year. It is literally impossible that all the people panicking are natives because there aren’t that many of us left. Which is proof that the second observation is true.

We’re just faking the panic. Freaking out about the weather is a time-honored tradition for southerners. We live in a unique part of the country where we get to experience almost every type of weather or natural disaster possible. Everything from hurricanes* to snowstorms to tornadoes and floods. But our talent for freaking out about the weather really shines through when we get snow or ice. Even a hint of snow results in two-hour delays, and if a few flakes start falling, school is cancelled, no questions asked.

Transplants balk at our behavior for a few years, then they slowly realize what we’re doing and buy into it as well. Basically, we’re faking a freakout to get out of school and work. And it works every time. I’d say that we central North Carolinians really proved our acting chops during the 2005 Half-Inch Blizzard.

Here’s the gist: Mid-afternoon on January 19, 2005, it started snowing and it was coming down faster than the local meteorologists expected. So of course, everyone in Raleigh went into panic mode. No one thought it was going to snow until that evening. People left work early and schools started taking kids home. But the problem was that everyone left at the same time and started driving on roads that were already beginning to get covered in snow. This resulted in some people (including buses filled with schoolkids) getting stuck in gridlock for eight hours. That is not a typo. Some people were stuck on I-40 for eight hours.

The glory of this panic is that now people are even more cautious because we don’t want schoolkids to get stuck on the highway for eight hours. So our well-executed panic has resulted in everyone closing down schools and businesses even faster than they used to. Mission accomplished.

I probably shouldn’t be sharing our secret with the world, but I doubt anyone is willing to call us on it. After all, moving to the south also means we’ll eventually teach you the benefits of taking things a little slower, Andy Griffith style and you’ll soon buy into our snow panic. Besides, every once in a while, it’s a good idea to have an unexpected day off from work or school.

*We’re the opposite way about hurricanes. Hence the popularity of hurricane parties. We throw caution to the wind and ride the hurricane out (unless it’s a really, really strong hurricane).

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