Winter Wonderland

By Guy Fletcher | Photography by Joseph Weyman | Posted on 01.02.14 – Editor's Note

Intersection of North Market and Third streets during the 2010 blizzard

Winter means snow storm hysteria. And, this being Maryland, that madness is prompted by any “storm” forecast predicted to add a layer of snow greater than the thickness of gold leaf. Days before the first flake hits, an energy force strong enough to bring down a herd of elephants begins to fill our supermarkets, gas stations and liquor stores. Shelves are emptied, supplies are bought in bulk and homes filled with enough toilet paper to last through the next elections. The Boy Scouts have nothing on Marylanders prepping for snow.

Now, we have gotten off lucky these past two, relatively mild winters. The roads have been pleasant enough even for the smallest Smart Car and the mood at the grocery store has been, well, abnormally normal. But each snow-free day feels like another nervous crank on a Jack-in-the-box; you know something is going to break loose soon, but you just don’t know when. How many more snow-free winters can we possibly be blessed with?

We got our first taste of what might come last month, when back-to-back storms brought some pre-holiday heartburn. They weren’t anything major, by any means, but they did shutter schools for a couple of days and followed the pattern of panic that most storms take. It goes something like this:

Five days before storm. The first forecast of a “possible” storm starts hitting TV and social media. Naturally, most people interpret this to mean the worst possible outcome.

Two-to-three days before storm. Hysteria builds because the weather forecast, by some fluke, is still accurate! Lay people suddenly adopt a doctorate-level understanding of meteorology. (The term “European model” takes on an entirely new and far less-appealing meaning.)

Day before storm. This is the apex of panic. Go to the grocery store only if you dare, or don’t mind a 20-minute wait at the check-out line. If you do go, you might get stuck with multigrain bread, skim milk and single-ply toilet paper because the early birds got all the good stuff.

This same day all your school teacher friends, like clockwork, will bombard Facebook with prayers for a snow day. (As an aside, I never understood teachers and other school types who get thrilled about getting a snow day off, which inevitably gets added to the end of the school calendar. I’d much rather have a day off in sunny June than in chilly January, but that’s just me.)

Day of storm. This day can go one of two ways. The storm could be a total bust, which means friends will fill social media with messages like, “Must be nice to be the weather man. I wish I had a job where I only had to be right half the time!” This scenario will also lead to people griping that the school system overreacted and closed schools before the snow came.

In the second scenario, the forecast is correct and snow covers our well-supplied homes and coats roads that are never plowed soon enough for our satisfaction. Few people will praise meteorology that day, instead going on Twitter and saying things like, “Well, the weather man finally got it right!” They will also sharply critique the school system for not being forward-thinking enough to close schools before the storm hit.

So there you have it—the Maryland snow storm playbook. Keep this in mind the next time a storm hits and you are stuck in a house with multigrain bread and skim milk. Have a safe and happy January.