Friday, January 31, 2014

Snow What?


I don't think I've ever been happier to be sitting at home writing a blog post. In some ways I don't feel like this is my story to tell, compared to just about every other citizen in the state I call home, I have been on a vacation the past three days. I rarely share where I live when I am writing on the blog. This is intentional, sometimes for privacy issues because of my family and job, but usually because I don't want the judgement and stigma that comes along with being from the Deep South. People hear that you are from Alabama and sometimes they automatically assume every single stereotype they've ever heard- we don't have teeth, or bathrooms, or electricity, or shoes; we are all racist, or backwards, or uneducated, we all marry our cousins, or our dogs, or our tractors, etc.,etc. But today, in light of the events of the past 72 hours, I am writing about Alabama.



Tuesday morning, this household woke up and got ready for school, like we do most mornings. All the local (and national) forecasts had been predicting snow for the state, but it was a really weird forecast, and the snow was all predicted to occur hours away from the center of the state where I live. To help the coastal areas of Alabama deal with what would be record amounts of snowfall (go ahead and laugh at amounts up to four inches, but we are talking about four inches of snow at the beach), the city of Birmingham, the largest city in Alabama, sent what little they have in means of snow equipment south. The forecast said it would be chilly and we would possibly receive a "dusting" of snow, but that any accumulation would be well south of us. Curtis packed up lunch for Sean, and we set out for the 15 minute interstate ride to school. By 9:30 AM, my students were in typical freak-out mode about the snow. Because we see it so rarely, even teenagers start getting giddy about the white stuff. By 10:30 I was having to be "that teacher" explain to kids that "No we would not be getting out of school" for a dusting of snow. By noon, this is what EVERY major thoroughfare in the metro Birmingham area looked like.

Photo courtesy of AL.com

The snow, which again WAS NOT predicted, hit central Alabama fast and didn't let up. Schools, notorious for a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" reaction to bad weather, hadn't prepared for snow, nor had the businesses, so within a one hour span, millions of Alabamians had taken to the roads to get home, or to get to schools to pick up kids. It was a disaster to say the least, and not just because we are a bunch of hicks who don't know how to handle driving in "a little snow". I was still being optimistic about getting home until my school system stopped running buses. In six years teaching, I can't remember that happening a single time. I remember thinking to myself, "Shit. That escalated quickly." No buses running in the rural town where I teach means hundreds of students were stranded at seven different schools. Sean finally got to me, but a trip that usually takes two minutes took over an hour. By the time he got to my school at 1:00 PM, the interstate was closed. Thankfully my in-laws live locally, so we made our way to their house to wait out the weather.

Photo courtesy of AL.com

Others weren't so lucky. Thousands of cars were stranded on the interstates because of wrecks and running of gas. Thousands slept in their cars or walked miles to gas stations and hotels. Many were totally unprepared, again, not because we are dumb asses, but because it was totally unexpected. A woman I know who is eight months pregnant and has two very young children had to abandon her van and walk miles to shelter. Cars slid off roads and into icy ravines and streams. A Good Samaritan helping push cars out of the roadway disappeared, and was found twelve hours later, barely conscious, in a ravine unable to move because his back was broken. Almost 12,000 students in Alabama had to spend the night in their schools away from their parents (many of whom were stranded on those icy interstates). God bless those teachers and administrators who stayed with them. Curtis couldn't leave his office in downstairs Birmingham, so he spent the night there, scavenging change from the car for vending machine food. A brain surgeon walked six miles to a hospital to perform surgery. A mother gave birth in her home when the ambulance crashed on its way to get her. 

Photo courtesy of AL.com

Photo courtesy of AL.com

And then people, not from my state, not understanding the graveness of the situation at hand, started poking fun at us. They embraced every stereotype available and concluded that we were overreacting to a little bit of snow because we are dumb and Southern. They said, "Suck it up" and "You don't even know what snow is" and "No one died". Most recent numbers show that five died in my state, including a two-year-old child in a 7-car crash. My blood boiled. My heart hurt. We are not the punchline of a joke. The internet has made it so easy to make a meme from a random photograph. Without the context, we look like fools, of course, but with the context, these people looked like major dicks. Being away from my home for 48 hours without a computer gave me a lot of time to stew about these things. I'm over it now, and I realize that most people (myself included) are often guilty of "open mouth, insert foot" disease. We say things without thinking. We make jokes at the expense of others. We paint with broad brushes. I am thankful that in the midst of all the chaos, we still had so may heartwarming stories to tell of the"snow angels" who helped out in the crisis. Hotel managers. Facebook pages created to help stranded motorists. Warming shelters. An icy dog rescue.


TL;DR summary: Snow can bring out the best and worst in people. Make sure it brings out your best. And, I'm really, really happy to be home. And I like links. A lot.

Photo courtesy of AL.com

12 comments:

Katie Frost said...

I'd like to start by saying I'm so glad you and your family are safe. I can't imagine what it was like going through it and being scared for family and friends. Feeling like other parts of the country were laughing about it would have just added insult to injury. My husband and I watched coverage from here in Minnesota and were really concerned for everyone. 4 inches is a very different experience when you have hundreds of plows and sanders to help make the roads passable. We were struck by all the acts of kindness we heard about: restaurants bringing sandwiches to stranded motorists, the school teachers staying overnight with students, people sharing gas on the freeways. So just know that those stories are the ones most of us are hearing and focusing on. Also, people judging and making cruel assumpions based on where you live are not worth your time, as I'm sure you know. We are standing with you in snowy solidarity here in MN!

Katie Frost said...

Well said Katie!!! And I'm glad you all are safe!

Katie Frost said...

Agreed. Well said.
Being from the North, we still don't know how to drive with 4" of snow.
Glad everyone around you is home and safe.

Katie Frost said...

I'm glad you guys all managed to get home and stay safe. While I
currently live in northern Illinois, I lived for a few years in S.
Carolina. What I remember is the the snow we got there in the south was
quite different from the fluffy white stuff we get up here --it was much
icier, and there was usually a ice layer underneath. My little Corolla
can drive through 4 or 5 inches of snow without a problem, but just
before Christmas I hit a patch of "black ice", where the pavement looks
wet but is all ice. $1500 dollars to fix the back axle after we hit a
curb --you have NO control on ice. My daughter and I were a bit shaken
up, and after I got my car back, I joked that I drove like a little old
lady, I was so nervous that I'd hit a patch of ice!

Katie Frost said...

As a life-long southerner now living in Minnesota, I hear you on this one, Katie. In the last 3 years up here, I'd heard a lot of haha southerners can't drive on snow comments, but I think seeing the images and hearing the stories of this recent storm have opened a lot of eyes here about what "a few inches of snow" means when, as roxyrampage pointed out, there isn't a huge number of plows, etc., ready to be mobilized immediately. (And I just don't think MN gets the kind of dangerous snow-melted-down-with-ice-on-top stuff that is routine in OK and TX and that is what most southern storms seem to turn into; is anybody a "good driver" in such conditions?) For what it's worth, everyone here has been talking about how horrible and scary the whole situation was for you guys and more than one person has told me "I'll never complain about MN winters again!" after seeing what bad weather means in the south. In any case, glad you and yours were safe during this time.

Katie Frost said...

It wouldn't have mattered where you were from; those conditions, with that many people, would have led to the same results almost anywhere in the country. I'm from Wisconsin (now in Kentucky, and learning to drive on snow and ice all over again), and a "dusting" of snow, under the right conditions, during morning rush hour on the Beltline in Madison would have had the same result. Cars and snow do not mix; it melts from the friction of the tires and then refreezes...into ice.

And as Sally below says...no one is a good driver in those kinds of conditions. Me, from Wisconsin, would have slid just as far and as fast as the Alabama or Georgia driver next to me. Weather doesn't care what state you're from.

Glad you're safe and back home... :)

Katie Frost said...

I don't blame those of you who live there, and drive there, for what happened during those conditions. I do place a lot of blame on emergency management teams, both state and city (in multiple southern states and cities) for not being prepared for such an emergency situation, and more importantly, not acting quickly once the situation escalated out of control. Especially this winter. Most of the country has seen unseasonable and extremely dangerous conditions. I think government officials are so worried about "looking stupid" if they warn people it might be a good day to stay home or if they cancel classes and then nothing happens. Hopefully this will be the warning they need to get plans in place to work together better for future emergencies.

Katie Frost said...

OH my God! I live in Kentucky, so we get the same stereotypes, but we are accustomed to snow. However, the multi-car pile ups are not a joking matter! I read the article on the surgeon who walked six miles to preform surgery and God bless that man. As a member of the hospitality industry, it is my pleasure to offer stranded people a place to get warm for the cheapest available rate I can get them. I myself walked 10 miles with my two kids winter 2013 in the ditch next to the highway because I was so afraid of crashing my car as cars piled up around me. I parked my car in the woods next to the highway and just hoofed it, and I'm used to driving in the snow! We just hadn't properly prepared for it. Mother Nature does not conform to our rules.
Be safe Katie!
-ash
www.thestylizedwannabe.com

Katie Frost said...

First: I'm glad to hear you're safe through all of that! Second: my family and I went to Alabama about 5 years ago to go to Talladega (NASCAR, y'all!) and we stayed at a beautiful B&B, The Cedars, in Munford or thereabouts. We thought all of the state that we saw was gorgeous - we didn't love the humidity, but we're from Southern California and are the ultimate wimps when it comes to life in general, or haven't you heard? ;) And every person we met was so nice! Third: three years ago we moved to Spokane, WA (take all the stereotypes you listed and they all fit. Even that far north, can you believe it?!) where it snows a lot every damn year and freezes for the majority of the time, so ice is inevitable. Well, as you may have guessed, *I* was told I couldn't drive in snow because, and I quote, "*giggle* You're from California. *giggle*". Really? I will have you know that in three winters I NEVER had so much as a tap of my bumper on another car in the snow (or EVER, for that matter) while I witnessed, on the daily, people who couldn't drive whether it was snowing, icy, sunny, drizzly, windy, you name it! Fender-bender city, I tell ya'!

Katie Frost said...

Being from Michigan, when I first saw the images I did poke fun at the South for freaking out over two inches of snow. Then you posted a blog post quickly recapping what was happening and my thought process completely changed. I started sticking up for you guys and explaining to my fellow Yanks that it is a completely different ball game from when it snows up here. As soon as it starts to snow, we have trucks getting dispatched to disperse salt on our roads (and dent our cars...) whereas you guys don't have that equipment. Mother Nature has been pretty harsh on everyone this year and it seems you lot got the brunt of it. Hopefully it gets better!

Katie Frost said...

Wow! That is crazy, and I'm so glad you and your family were safe. Thanks for sharing the story with us, and I'm sorry and disappointed to know that people poked fun. More to come in my email :)

Katie Frost said...

I'm so glad you made it safely! I'm in Atlanta, so I totally get where you are coming from. Thankfully, my commute was almost like a regular rush hour, but I have coworkers who didn't make it home until Thursday! I was so proud of the generous people of my city who made this snowpocalypse a bit more bearable, and I hope that we don't ever have to encounter such an event again!

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