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Charleston Ice Capades

Light snow accumulates on a residential Charleston road.
Light snow accumulates on a residential Charleston road. © 2014 Audra L. Gibson


There was quite a build up to the last 36 hours of wintry wonder here in the Lowcountry. Gas tanks were filled. Folks checked their stock of batteries and bought firewood, bottled water, bread, and milk (though I've never understood why one buys milk when they expect the power is going to go out). Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel arrived. Social media went nuts. People created hashtags like #Snowmageddon, #SnowMyGosh, and #SnO-M-G, when really ones like #IceIceBaby would have been more appropriate. Charleston closed schools before the first drop of precipitation arrived and sent her workers home early. And then we waited. It was probably a good idea.

Water shelves emptied as people prepped for Winter Storm Leon. © Audra L. Gibson. All Rights Reserved.
Water shelves emptied as people prepped for Winter Storm Leon.


I went to Auburn University in Alabama, and it rarely snows there. Once when a winter storm was brewing, the University decided to cancel class. Again, it hadn't snowed. There was just a threat of snow. I didn't mind (after all I got a day off from classes), but friends in the north found the situation humorous. The same thing happened the last three days as Charlestonians began to prepare. I saw post after post on facebook by people hailing from colder climates noting how ridiculous it was that classes were being canceled and workers were being sent home early. Don't get me wrong, I think people can take things to extremes. I think buying a case of bottled water is a good idea. You probably don't need to buy a pallet. A few extra batteries? Great. Emptying the shelves at Lowes, probably not necessary. Despite the fact that I don't think most Charleston residents needed to rent a salt truck, I do think it's a good idea most were urged to go home...and stay there.

What some thick-blooded folks may not realize, is it is not an exaggeration when states in the deep south say they aren't prepared for snow and ice (or even cold temperatures for that matter). If people wonder why schools close when the weather drops to 9 degrees here, they may not have considered that many Lowcountry children don't have warm clothes to stand at a bus stop at 6:00 a.m. in those temps. When a hurricane is a few days out in the Atlantic, most are fairly composed. We prefer our named storms to come in the tropical format as opposed to the winter format. When snow is in the forecast, we freak out a little. First, because we don't know what to do with ourselves. And second, because we are excited (we don't get to see that white fluffy stuff very often). It's an event.

Can you imagine Jim Cantore flying out to Minneapolis because an inch or two of snow was expected there? Of course not. He's in Charleston because one or two inches of snow is strange for us...and possibly because he likes to showcase his stealthy ninja skills when defending his broadcast from a potentially inebriated young man in Cistern Yard at the College of Charleston.



Let's consider Charleston's overly cautious stance from a few angles. If you were betting we didn't have a huge fleet of snow plows and salt trucks here, you were correct. Even if the Lowcountry did have those types of vehicles, I think it's fair to say that a large number of residents have no idea how to drive in snow and ice. If you are from the north living in Charleston thinking, "I could have handled myself easily in those conditions," picture your drive again with a southerner who has no idea how to handle themselves spinning on the ice and sliding right into your car. It's less pleasant that way. Isn't it? Then consider that a vast amount of the Charleston area is simply connected islands and peninsula. I once had a job in town where I only drove 20-25 minutes to get to work but had to cross four bridges in the process, and three of them were draw bridges. If you have lived any amount of time up north, you're likely familiar with the "Bridge Freezes Before Road" signs. Even if our road conditions didn't hinder you, our bridge closures would threaten to trap you.


If anyone needs more convincing, they need only look to poor Atlanta, GA. I bet there are a number of residents there who wish their bosses had sent them home a half day earlier and schools had canceled class. Instead, motorists were trapped in grid lock, and many children had to spend the night at school because it was too dangerous to go home or their parents just couldn't reach them. Video of stranded drivers lead top of the hour broadcasts as some people had to sit in cars for twelve hours or more. I had friends in Atlanta who went out to help, one helping push disabled vehicles up icy hills, while the other baked muffins for hungry people who were stranded (you know who you are Joe and Michelle, you wonderful people you). Commissioner Mark W. McDonough said, as of Wednesday, Georgia State Patrol had responded to 1,254 accidents with 130 injuries and one weather related death being reported. Those numbers are extreme for a couple of days worth of winter in any state.


The big chill, live from my front yard. © Audra L. Gibson. All Rights Reserved.
The big chill, live from my front yard.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I went to sleep Tuesday night. I used my fireplace for only the second time ever, turned the temperature in my freezer down a few notches in case I lost power, and put my car cover on my vehicle in hopes of preventing extreme layers of ice. I was hoping for snow Wednesday morning, and was a bit under whelmed when I woke to find only a light dusting. I felt a little disconnected without internet and television for the day, and I was bummed to go outside and see that a tree branch about three inches in diameter had fallen and put a few dents in my previously unblemished hood. I should have known better. I've seen heavy ice break off tree branches before, but it's one more thing I just don't think about very often living in the south. All that said, instead of feeling disappointed, I should probably just feel thankful that I was warm all night, had a fairly uneventful day, and though my car isn't as cosmetically beautiful as it was the night before, it isn't in a ditch or abandoned on the side of the road in Atlanta.

Temperatures indicate more frozen surfaces over night Wednesday, and schools in the tri-county area are closed again Thursday. Considering less pleasant scenarios (like camping out in my car for twelve hours or getting into an accident), I'm happy to stay put until things are back to normal around here. I'm not opposed to snow and ice. Growing up a Florida girl, I actually still get pretty giddy when I get to see it. However, I think I may prefer my snow sightings to happen above the Mason Dixon line, or at the very least on a ski slope. I will be just fine to get back to Charleston's typically warm weather.

Audra Gibson

Audra Gibson is a Christian, photographer, surfer, and a lover of teriyaki steak bites. She enjoys live music, doesn't like to be cold, and she's a bit of a cheese snob. Traveling Ink was her little brain child and she's very happy that you're here. She'd be oh so happy to recommend her favorite tours and attractions in town, help you with a team building event, or organize a day (or week) of fun for you and your group.


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