One of the great pleasures about living in the Appalachian Mountains is the four distinct season of each calender year. After living in Hawaii for over 3 years, I started to miss the change in seasons that required more than just wearing a shirt or not wearing a shirt as the only gauge of differing. That applied to guys only of course...well, at least in most places.
(What's all this cold, white stuff?! Is this the Twilight Zone of something?!)
Coming back to East Tennessee that first fall was like a warm, blanketing hug from a relative you don't see very often when you visit. Cool crisp air, beautifully colored trees and layered clothing woke back up the hillbilly in me rather quickly.
Still...I nearly froze to death that first winter back.
Now that 20 years have past since my return, I've completely acclimatized to unpredictable springs, hot muggy summers, transitioning autumns and typically mild winters. I distinctly remember how unpredictable Spring can be because I left for Hawaii in April 1987 leaving behind better that a foot of snow. There was another big Spring snow in 1996 with over a foot and maybe one more since then that I can't quite pinpoint the year...but things like that just don't happen too often in the South...and that's a good thing because we lose our freakin' minds over the white stuff.
2010 has so far been a banner year in terms of snow fall. Now I know my Yankee...excuse me...Northern readers can't quite understand the big deal we make about a little snow. But there's a psychological phenomenon in the South know as White Panic (and no, there's no racial connotations associated, so stop stereotyping...it's just wrong).
At the first hint of a dusting in the long-range weather forecast...White Panic spreads. First, grocery stores are emptied of milk, bread and sandwich meats as people prepare for the oncoming natural disaster. Local hardware chains quickly sell out of generators, kerosene heaters and the half dozen or so snow shovels they stocked. Salt is again traded as a commodity on open markets as if the East India Trading Company were back in business on the high seas. That's the initial phase.
As the impending blizzard draws near, most all productive work not associated with storm preparation comes to a grinding halt. In most every building of business or industry, faces can be seen pressed against glass...posted as sentries to give warning of the first flake sighting. Most schools are closed as a precautionary measure because the safety of the children is vastly more important than the school calendar running into mid-June. White Panic is reaching a pinnacle stage.
SNOW! Immediately the skills required to differentiate when to press the gas pedal and the brake pedal are lost by large numbers of people...even those not yet driving or with no intention of driving in the near future. Workers area wide take to cars like pilots scrambling for cockpits during an air alert drill. The race for home/safety results in both gridlock and fender benders of biblical proportions (well, if there had been cars in the Bible). White Panic is now at fever pitch! Local economies shut down...lives hang in the balance.
Massive power outages result in a near simultaneous sliding of thermostats to the far right of the dial. White Panic creates a mindset that if electricity should be lost, better to start with a higher temperature inside, so it takes longer for the house to cool and hypothermia to take hold. Quilts and blankets from bridal and baby showers long past are pulled out of packaging to prepare for extra sources of warmth. Most people are overcome with deep regret for passing on the fireplace option while housebuilding. The finger pointing begins as tempers flare.
Teenagers are affected by White Panic in a more unique way as walls close in and claustrophobia runs unchecked. Power outages create a condition known as White Panic Zombie as teenagers sit in front of blank flat screens with gaming remotes in hand and thumbs clicking away...their minds incapable of grasping the lack of actual game action. Some are found by light switches caught in a loop of flipping on and off, again and again, incoherently frozen as the proverbial and literal light bulbs refuse to come on.
White Panic isn't pretty. Typically, Southerners only have to deal with the phenomenon once every 7 or 8 years. Sledding has been banned in a lot of communities in an effort to discourage snow wishes or dreams of white winter wonderlands. I'll bet you won't find an athlete in this years Winter Olympics from the South...we don't even watch the Winter Olympics is fear of spreading unnecessary panic if someone confused a scene from Vancouver with the local news. Yes, we remember Orson Wells and the War of the Worlds radio story...and we're not taking chances!
The cliche of the snowball in hell is not as popular in the South as other places for a couple of reasons. First, hell is a bad word. Second, snowballs are synonymous with that bad word down here. With snow in today's forecast...I'm sure there are a few other bad words flying around everywhere because this will be our fourth snow in less than two months!
This global warming thing is killing us down South...we just weren't prepared.