Friday, February 4, 2011

Driving in Inclement Weather (Or: Step 1--yell obscenities at the car in front of you doing 10 mph because there’s 3 centimeters of snow on the ground.)

It snowed in Austin today.  I gather that this is a relatively rare occurrence.  How did I figure this out?  Well, it could be my amazing, Holmesian powers of deduction, or it could be the amount of freaking out that occurred over the past 3 days.  Allow me to recap for you.

On Tuesday, the temperature plummeted from it's-starting-to-feel-like-spring to oh-my-god-why-can’t-I-feel-my-fingers.  For the rest of the week, the overtaxed power grid struggled to cope with the sudden, overwhelming strain placed on it by countless heaters working over time, and we humans pulled out every warm item of clothing we owned (at one point I had 3 pairs of socks on: two on my feet and one on my hands.)  In our defense, it was genuinely cold.  I can’t remember the last time I was actually out in single digit weather.  Then (cue dramatic music) the weather channel said the S word.  Snow, beginning Thursday night and stretching into Friday.  An atmosphere of vague panic descended on the city on Wednesday, and by Thursday afternoon it had gelled into genuine fear.  While Chicago prepared for Snowpocalypse 2011, Austin prepared for Snowpocalito, its annoying younger brother. 

I didn’t actually get to see the snow fall.  It happened late last night.  When I woke up this morning there was a fine dusting of snow, perhaps an inch thick at the most, covering everything.  The university canceled classes, businesses declared a holiday, even the US postal service declared a no-mail day due to “inclement weather.”  Now I spent a good part of my childhood living in the south where a forecast of snow sent most of our neighbors scrambling to Walmart to stock up on toilet paper and milk (why toilet paper and milk I will never know...) but I have never encountered anything close to the amount of panic that inch of snow caused in Austin today.  Just for fun, I went out driving at about 10 am.  I’ve never driven in snow before (I learned to drive in the Sonoran Desert) and while I know the theory (having spent years listening to my parents shout it angrily at the cars in front of us on snowy days in North Carolina) I’ve never actually put the theory into practice.  I did a little research to brush myself up on what to do if the car skids, bundled up, brushed off my windshield, warmed up my car and set out.  Much to my disappointment, I didn’t skid.  Not even close.  I did, however, encounter the unique frustration of being surrounded by completely clueless drivers.  I feel entirely in my rights to complain about bad snow driving, seeing as I LEARNED TO DRIVE IN THE DESERT.  I understand the dangers, and I don’t mean to belittle the actions taken by the university (I have seen too many tragedies caused by dedicated students trying to drive to school in snowy conditions they just don’t know how to handle) but really.  There’s no need to panic.  Simply drive at a speed at which you feel you have good control over your car (that does NOT mean 10 miles an hour), leave plenty of follow space between yourself and the car in front of you (That’s difficult, I know),  and if you don’t think you can handle it, don’t drive. 

To those of you who are well and truly snowed in, stay warm, stay safe, and enjoy your milk and toilet paper.


  1. Step 2: Shout louder obscenities when the snow on the roof of the car in front of you flies off onto your windshield.

    I remember saying to Mom when we lived in North Carolina: "I think I've become a complete southerner." "Why?" said Mom. "Because with the forecast of snow, I suddenly have this overwhelming urge to buy milk and bread." (For me it was bread, not toilet paper.)

    And even though we lived in Rochester, NY, for nine years, by far the worst winter I ever experienced was the first we spent in North Carolina--January and February of 1996. Ice EVERYWHERE. Ugh.

    Thanks for a great post. I love your description of the temperatures.

  2. While I was in school at Centre, we would always marvel at how quickly the milk and toilet paper disappeared from the shelves as soon as snow was forecast. Just milk and toilet paper.

    I remember that ice storm. That ugly wood stove earned its living. We slept on the pull-out couch and hung big rugs up on the doorways to keep the room warm.

  3. So funny! It's not your very competent winter driving skills which are in any way to be questioned, it's all the idiot drivers who are out on the roadways without a shred of winter skills, and who therefore make it dangerous as h*** for any one to be out there!

    Wishing the good citizens of snowy Dallas luck in getting through Sunday!