Snow: It's all a matter of what you're used to

Jenny Creveling has gotten miles out of a story about a 1980s winter storm in Atlanta. Then living in Decatur with her husband, Creveling recalls a bit of snow and ice hitting the area early in the afternoon, causing many people to leave work and head home.

"Everyone tried to leave at once and it was mayhem," she said.

The highways were gridlocked, cars slid off the road, and countless people abandoned their vehicles. But Creveling and her husband, both from Washington state, had a blast in their Honda, scooting around on the streets and arriving safely at home. Her hubby even returned to school at Emory University to pick up stranded colleagues, and both were amazed at how the city was paralyzed by what seemed to them run-of-the-mill winter weather.

But that wasn't just any storm to Atlantans. It was SnowJam ‘82.

Atlanta native Brenda Reid is unapologetic about pre-snow angst. She remembers what may be the same 1982 storm differently. The 4 inches of snow and ice, which hit during rush hour, turned her 10-minute drive home from downtown to Grant Park into a three-hour journey. Plus, she wrecked her car after skidding on the sludge. For the inexperienced snow driver, it was historically stressful.

"We're Southerners. We don't do snow," said Reid, now the media and community relations manager for Publix Super Markets. "And we keep our refrigerators stocked."

The good news is that Thursday is shaping up to be nothing like SnowJam, but memories of that icy day, and of the storm of March 1993 that dumped more than 2 feet of snow in some places and left hundreds of thousands of people without power for days, may explain why Southerners dread the "S-word."

“It used to be just that the threat of snow sent people to the store. It’s not that way now," Reid said, explaining that forecasts including ice or possibilities of school closings are now primary factors. “It all depends on how real the threat is."

Meteorologists said Tuesday that snow should begin falling early Thursday. The National Weather Service said the storm is expected to drop 1 to 2 inches of snow before moving out by midnight.

In other words, Atlantans need not fret, though they likely will.

That's why grocery chains such as Publix are filling up on bread, milk, bottled water and eggs, the staples Atlantans seem to reach for if snowed in for just a day, Reid said. The pre-storm rush hadn't begun as of Tuesday, Reid said, but she expects people will hit the aisles by Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

Kroger spokesman Glynn Jenkins said the chain is ready for spikes in the aforementioned items, as well as breakfast foods and soups.

Intown Ace Hardware, located on Scott Boulevard, keeps sleds stocked 365 days a year in the event of snow. Owner Tony Powers said the store plans to pick up more ice melt products in addition to sleds by Thursday.

"It's the things like ice melt that are critical. We order it knowing it will sit on the shelf 51 weeks a year. But it's that one day that you will need it," he said. "It's like playing the lottery, only you're playing with snow."

Powers said he cringes when asked about Southerners and their snow sensibilities.

"It's funny. I'm a native Atlantan and I hate hearing about how we Southerners deal with the snow," he said. "There are no Southerners left. It's all the Northerners now."

Hillary Sencer, originally from New York, laughs when she recalls her first Atlanta winter at Georgia Tech.

"Class was canceled and it didn't even snow," she said. "It was closed the night before in preparation for the snow. That was news to me."

Ryan Taylor, an architect who moved to Atlanta from Tennessee in the mid-1990s, said he understands Atlantans' anxiety: the ice on the area's hilly topography.

“Sledding is one thing, but getting your kids to school is another if you aren’t prepared,” he said.

School officials won't make the call until late Wednesday or early Thursday, many said. Jorge Quintana, a spokesman for Gwinnett County Public Schools, said officials will decide whether to cancel class just before 6 a.m. the day of a storm unless it snows the previous night. Like other area schools, the notice would be broadcast to news outlets, on school Web sites, and in many cases, by a "robo-call" telephone system that informs parents.

Keith Bromery, a spokesman for Atlanta Public Schools, recalls living in Chicago in 1979 when a historic snow, even by that city's standards, dumped 4 feet of white stuff.

"I cross-country skied to work, it was that bad," he recalled.

Despite his proven winter hardiness, Bromery doesn't judge this Southern city for what some might call overly cautious closures.

"One thing I've learned after living in Southern Florida, when it's 60 degrees and people are outside wearing parkas and gloves, is that it's all what you're used to."