JUST TWO days into the new year, the first jittery stirrings of the weather wimps could be heard throughout Baltimore yesterday.
Via the usual caffeinated TV weathermen and their Insta-Weather and StormTracker and Doppler radar toys, Baltimoreans learned that a winter storm was headed for much of the Eastern Seaboard.
The bulk of the storm's sleet and snow was expected to remain to our south. But there was a chance - oh, the horror! - that light snow and flurries could hit our region today, guaranteeing that in thousands of homes and offices, people would spend much of the day by their windows, shooting nervous glances at the sky and waiting for the first flakes of White Death to appear.
Sadly, this forecast of light snow did not spark the usual panicky dashes to the supermarket for milk, bread and toilet paper, which are always so amusing.
Honestly, is there anything more inspiring than seeing an elderly man with severe osteo-arthritis and a walker elbowed aside for that last half-gallon of 2 percent milk?
Is there anything more uplifting than the sight of two bratty 10-year-olds - sent into the Super Fresh by their anxious mommies, who remain curbside keeping the SUVs running - duking it out for that last loaf of Blue Ribbon bread?
I say there isn't. Oh, for pure entertainment, give me a full-scale Baltimore snow panic any time.
It`s better than ER, better than West Wing, better than Friends. Hell, on certain days, it's right up there with The Sopranos.
Yet even before this newest threat of snow, the whining about the weather had been steadily increasing around here.
Everywhere you went, people were saying: "It's so cold! How come it's so cold?"
Oh, it was all I could do not to grab these people and shake them by the lapels and scream: "HOW COME IT'S SO COLD? BECAUSE IT'S JANUARY, YOU DOPE! IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE COLD!"
To get a sense of just how bad our weather wimpiness is, I called an old friend in Buffalo, N.Y., where 82 inches of snow fell last week.
Think about that for a moment: 82 inches! Even if you're math is shaky, that works out to nearly 7 feet of snow! Snow up to Shaquille O'Neal's hairline! And here we are, freaking out over a possible dusting.
For parts of five days, from Christmas Eve on, it snowed and snowed and snowed in Buffalo.
It snowed so much that the airport closed, traffic was banned from the streets, carports were buckling, cars were literally being engulfed by snow.
It snowed so much that front-end loaders and dump trucks were brought in to cart the stuff away. The National Guard was called in to aid with snow removal. In many places, it was not uncommon to see piles of snow 15 feet high.
And yet, said my friend, Donn Esmonde, a metro columnist for The Buffalo News who has lived in the city for 20 years, "It was more of a major inconvenience than an emergency."
In the middle of the storm, Esmonde and his wife, Debbie Prusakowski, went for a walk on Elmwood Avenue, a major city thoroughfare. Despite the ban on driving, he says, "We were dodging cars left and right. ... There were people on cross-country skis, people on snowmobiles."
In other words, life went on. Less than 24 hours after the last flakes fell, Esmonde said, he drove his sister-in-law, Nancy Prusakowski of Baltimore, to the airport via the Kensington Expressway, a major highway.
"And it was down to asphalt," he said. "The plows had been out, and it was salted and everything."
Of course, even gritty, stoic Buffalo can get overwhelmed by the elements occasionally.
Esmonde recalled the big storm of November 2000, when forecasters were calling for 6-8 inches of snow and two feet was dumped on the city.
"Now that was scary," he recalled. "It started around 11 in the morning. So people got stuck on the roads coming home from work, kids got stuck in the schools."
Since this last storm started on Christmas Eve, people were off work and the schools were closed, making the situation easier to handle.
If seven feet of snow dropped in Baltimore, I told him, the schools wouldn't open until the next presidential election.
The weather guys would be buzzing around the studio with eyes as big as saucers, shrieking about the next big "hit" the region would take.
There'd be rioting in the supermarkets, fistfights over the last can of chicken noodle soup.
There'd be buzzards circling in the skies.
All life would be over.
"If we hear there's going to be 6-8 inches, women will come to work in high heels, not boots," he said. "It's just not that big a deal."
God, don't you just hate people like that?
Here we are, cowering before the first snowflake even hits the ground. And those people don't even have the common decency to whine when they're buried under seven feet.
What a twisted city.