Relative Snow Days

Growing up in Amarillo, Texas, we had some big snow days. During winter, winds blew the snow in feet high drifts that covered roads and blocked sidewalks and homes. One year snow blew so hard that it covered the front of our house from ground to roof. As a boy I would wake up in the mornings and listen to the radio reports to find out if school would be closed for snow, and I’d eagerly anticipate the chance to get outside for snowball fights with my friends. Rare was the day when school in Amarillo actually closed for snow, though. It was too common an occurrence in winter.

Writing about the Mesabi Range I have kept much of my weather reading focused on Minnesota. There winter extends half the year, from November through April. Rare is the day during winter in Virginia with temperatures above freezing and a ground clear of snow. And like Amarillo, rare is the day that school is closed because of weather.

Now I live on the eastern shore of Maryland, where this morning a cold rain turned briefly to snow. By the time the sun came up there was about a quarter inch of snow on the ground outside my house. This was enough for the county to cancel school. I could still see the grass in my yard. The street was white with a thin layer of snow that, because the temperatures still hovered slightly above freezing, turned to slush with the first car to drive over it. Shortly after sunrise the snow turned back into rain with slushy streets easy to navigate.

All this to say that the idea of snow days are relative. Growing up, I longed for days off from school in winter, when I’d get the chance to go play in the snow. In Minnesota, too, a kid’s day off from school might mean a chance to go sledding, or practice ski jumping. Here, though, the cold, bitter rain only makes a day off of school feel wasted. Throwing balls of slush at one another is not as fun as throwing balls of snow. And there are no hills where we can go slushing.

The pioneers who settled in northern Minnesota in the 1890s endured harsh winters. They had no cars, no central heating, no fleece blankets or down jackets or Gore-Tex boots to keep them warm and dry. If they wanted to warm the houses they built themselves they had to traipse out into the snow and gather firewood. Hopefully they cut enough wood before the cold really settled, because chopping up a tree when the temperatures were well below zero was not a fun experience. But they endured, and they survived, and today, when it snows in Minnesota, they shrug.

Just another winter day.