Being prepared - Joel Hall

While living in Georgia, on and off, for the last 10 years, I've eaten my fair share of grits and cornbread, drank gallons of sweet tea, and even attended a Charlie Daniels concert.

There are occasions, however, that always make me feel like a Yankee, and cold weather just happens to be one of them.

While I moved around a lot when I was a kid, one of the places where I spent a good part of my childhood was State College, Pa. People familiar with Penn State University and the surrounding area know that ice and snow are just a part of life there.

The item that most reminds me of my kindergarten-through-fifth-grade experience is the thick, blue, snowsuit I wore as a child. Every morning after a large snowfall, my sister and I would watch the morning news to see if our school was on the list of schools canceling classes for the day, due to the weather.

Even with several feet of snow outside, it was never certain that your school's classes would be canceled. If the snow plows could get to your school in time (and most of the time, they could), you may still have to attend school for half the day, if not the whole day.

At times, it seemed like the only way to get a snow day would be to organize all of the neighborhood kids to throw buckets of water onto the street overnight, so it could freeze before salt and plow crews had time to react.

When your school actually did make it to the canceled list, you felt like you had won the lottery because you had triumphed over many variables that could have easily turned a day of home-made soup and Nintendo play, into a day of spelling lessons and math equations.

Given my childhood experience, I always imagined the bar for conditions that warranted a snow day to be set pretty high. Last week, to my surprise, schools and businesses were issuing cancellations early on Thursday, before snow ever hit the ground in Georgia.

My inner Northerner was showing last Thursday, as I spent most of the day flabbergasted. The reactions to Georgia's weekend weather were no surprise to any of my colleagues, who were natives of the South. For the life of me, I couldn't understand why everyone was preparing for a winter storm like they were preparing for a hurricane.

I soon discovered, however, why everyone was being so over-cautious -- nobody knows what they are doing here when it comes to driving on the snow.

On Saturday, I unfortunately had prior engagements that were impossible to avoid. There was no salt, there were no plows, and many of the sheets of ice I observed the day before were still present that morning. I spent most of the day driving around downtown Atlanta, dodging other motorists struggling with the icy conditions.

By the end of the day, I felt a little more Southern, because, while I knew a little bit about winter driving, I felt just as helpless as everybody else, because the state wasn't adequately prepared to deal with the roads.

I hope this cold snap will be a good lesson to Southerners and Northerners that it's a good idea to be prepared for anything, no matter what side of the Mason-Dixon Line you're from.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.