Snow makes us lose our cool



It's nice to know some things never change -- even collective anxiety disorders.

Winter doesn't officially arrive for a couple of weeks, yet the old familiar whiff of panic was in the air yesterday as the Baltimore region prepared for its first significant snowfall of the season.

All the telltale signs were there: the early school closings before a flake had fallen, the Defcon 4 by local TV stations, the uptick in supermarket traffic for the hoarding of bread, milk and toilet paper, the caffeinated buzz in area workplaces as employees stole nervous glances out the window, waiting for the first traces of the White Death.

What would we do in these parts if we couldn't freak out about snow?

"There's no doubt it's gotten worse over the years," Mark Miller, longtime news director at WBAL radio, said of the snow jitters.

Miller said WBAL, the 50,000-watt giant that bills itself as "Maryland's News-Talk-Sports Station," would be on the air at 4 this morning -- an hour earlier than usual -- with wall-of-sound snow coverage if the storm is bad.

And don't think for a minute that people won't be listening at that hour.

Miller attributes the heightened anxiety about snow to a couple of factors, including the number of people who live in the suburbs and face long commutes to work, as well as the fact so many families have both parents working outside the home and face kid-sitting issues when school is canceled.

Whatever's driving this fear of snow, it's clear the media coverage doesn't help to calm things.

On WJZ TV's Web site, a midafternoon headline screamed "Bracing for Snow" in a font size normally reserved for the impeachment of a president.

This was accompanied by a picture of a plucky snowplow clearing the streets so that, presumably, decent, God-fearing citizens could jump in their cars and dash to the store if they needed to hoard more milk, bread and toilet paper.

WMAR TV's Web site went with a more subdued "Region readies for season's first snow," hedging its bet against the snowfall reaching cataclysmic, end-of-the-world proportions.

But by the evening newscasts, the anxiety levels were being ratcheted up considerably.

WBAL TV led its 5 o'clock "Big Story" with "Snow Patrol" coverage of the approaching storm, as reporter Kerry Cavanaugh did a stand-up from the Salt Dome in Brooklandville, with the usual big-storm footage of front-end loaders dumping salt into truck beds as a backdrop.

And on its 4 o'clock news, WJZ had reporter Mike Schuh in Easton on the Eastern Shore, where the snow was coming down thick and heavy, although Schuh dutifully noted: "The snow is not sticking to the pavement at all. It is wet."

But since when does the snow actually have to stick to roads and sidewalks to cause panic in our area?

All that mattered was this: There was snow in the forecast.

Schools were closing.

Supermarkets were filling with nervous shoppers.

TV reporters were pulling on their Timberland parkas and ski caps and bravely heading outside, whether there was a storm or not.

There was trouble coming from the skies, and everyone knew it.

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