How to enjoy a Southern snowstorm

Birmingham 1993

That’s me in front of my apartment building in Birmingham, Alabama on Saturday, March 13, 1993 — the day after the Storm of the Century dumped more than a foot of glorious snow on a city not used to such stuff.

I remember that as a magical weekend. I spent it with a pack of friends who lived in the neighborhood, which was just off Highland Avenue on the city’s Southside. On the night of the storm most of us lost power, but one guy didn’t, so we hung out in his apartment for most of the evening till the lights began going back on elsewhere. The next day was all about tromping around Southside and throwing snowballs, then walking two miles to the Alabama Theatre in downtown Birmingham to watch Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion. None of us had tickets, but it didn’t matter. The inhabitants of Birmingham’s wealthy and hilly southern suburbs who did have tickets were mostly stranded in those hilly suburbs, so new audience members were needed. My main memories of the show were of Keillor using part of the segment where he reads notes from the audience to help arrange SUV-pools home through the snow, and of Emmylou Harris — who had spent the entire day making the normally less-than-three-hour drive from Nashville — making her way onstage about halfway through.

After the show we walked to one of the few restaurants open on the Southside, where Keillor then showed up and everyone applauded him, to his apparent discomfort. Before that we had stopped by the offices of my employer, The Birmingham News, where I shared a few Prairie Home tidbits with the reporter writing a story about it, and realized I probably should have been helping out all day. Still, hardly anybody was actually going to see the Sunday paper, there was of course no online edition to worry about, and I also don’t remember the storm requiring the kind of all-out disaster coverage that last week’s two inches of snow in Birmingham did, for the simple reason that nobody was on the roads when the snow fell. The weatherpeople had seen the storm coming days before, and all of Alabama battened down for it. There were complications: Hundreds of thousands of people lost power for a couple of days, and my memory is that while Jefferson County stationed the four snowplows at its disposal at strategic locations on the eve of the storm, it then sent the drivers home and they weren’t able to get to the plows the next morning. But it still took Emmylou Harris less time to drive from Nashville than it did to cross metropolitan Birmingham or Atlanta last Tuesday or Wednesday.

This time the storm was much smaller, but the weatherpeople totally whiffed on it and it happened on a Tuesday morning instead of a Friday night. It was also a colder-than-usual Birmingham snow day, meaning that nothing melted. Plus, people in Birmingham don’t have much experience driving in snow, snow falls infrequently enough that it makes no sense to have massive snow-removal infrastructure, and the city’s main commuter routes almost all involve curves and steep hills. Same goes for Atlanta, although I don’t know that the hills are quite as steep.

Yeah, maybe the response could have been organized better, and metro Atlanta is a bit of a public-transit disaster. But the only clear lesson I can take from this, and from every snowstorm I’ve ever been through, is that snowstorms are a lot more fun if you live where you don’t have to drive to get to the stuff that matters.