Adjusting to ankle blizzards in Atlanta

January 06, 2002|By Mark Cloud

ATLANTA - I know what a snowstorm is.

And when I say that, I'm not whistlin' Dixie, like Al Gore talking about hoeing and planting and chopping and shredding and spiking and stripping tobacco.

No sirree, Billy Bob, when it comes to long, frigid, mental-wellbeing-challenging winters, I know what I'm talking about.

I know what it's like to scurry out from under blankets in the 5 a.m. darkness, to grab the jeans and sweatshirt draped over the chair by the bed and pull them on over your pajamas, to skate down the hallway in wool socks, to turn the thermostat dial up a couple of notches as you glide past, to get your gloves and your stocking cap with a freaky built-in mask and your parka with the fake-fur-trimmed hood from the hall closet, to sit on the steps by the front door and slip your feet into work boots with toes that haven't quite dried out from yesterday, to brace yourself as you open the door, to feel that sub-zero blast seep down to your bones, to lumber stiffly into the snowscape like an astronaut on the moon, to shovel a path through 18 inches of snow on the left side of the driveway so the car can get out of the garage so Mom can go to work - and the worst part is the end of the driveway where the snowplows that cleared the street have piled up sooty chunks of ice-snow that make each shovelful feel like a pile of bricks.

No, wait, that's not the worst part.

The worst part is that you're doing this in April.

In other words, I grew up in Iowa.

It's been several years, though, since I survived an Iowa winter. I now live in Atlanta, where the idea of a snowstorm is a bit different than it is in the upper Midwest.

What passes for a snowstorm here is what Midwesterners call springtime.

For instance, starting Wednesday, Atlanta was paralyzed by snow.

The paralysis actually began a couple of days earlier when news reports warned Atlantans to brace for the possibility that by Wednesday night they might be up to their ankles - that's right, all the way up to their ankles - in snow.

Moreover - I'm not exaggerating - temperatures could bottom out in the 20s.

Just to put this sort of shocking weather threat into perspective, reports explained that the last significant snowfall to hit Atlanta was in December 2000, when it was smothered by more than 2 inches.

When the threat of even the most negligible amount of snow hits Atlanta, here's what happens: The place shuts down. Schools close, office buildings empty, people run to grocery stores to stock up on buttermilk and cornbread.

That's exactly what happened in Atlanta on Wednesday, when flakes started falling. These were not heavy, frightening flakes. These were the softest, driest, gentlest, prettiest flakes imaginable. Granted, some of them stuck to grass. But the roads were completely clear, albeit damp. As a result of this onslaught, the city came to a standstill.

My wife went to the store for diapers (they're for the baby), and it was a zoo, she said. No shopping carts were available, aisles were blocked with shoppers, an argument broke out when a woman abandoned her cart in a checkout line to get some instant grits from the cereal aisle and then came back to find someone had pushed her cart aside.

Worst, none of those pre-cooked rotisserie chickens was left.

As for me, I've fully adapted to the Atlanta concept of a snowstorm. When I saw the menacing white dust on the front lawn Wednesday morning, I immediately called into the office to tell the boss that I really couldn't risk driving in to work, what with the threat of ankle-deep snow and all.

But I didn't get to speak with him, or anyone else. They were all at home, too, safe from what is surely the most abominable snowstorm of the century.

Don't worry about us, though. We'll soldier through another brutal Atlanta winter. It could be a tough one, too, possibly lasting all the way until the beginning of February.

I've learned that the real trick to surviving in this sort of climate is to venture outside only when necessary.

And for heaven's sake, if you're reckless enough to go out there, make sure your ankles are covered.

Mark Cloud is a staff attorney for the Georgia Court of Appeals and a free-lance writer. He lives in Atlanta.

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