The Volokh Conspiracy

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A Helpful Guide For Cynical Northerners To Understand Cold Weather In the South

Maintaining preparedness for cold weather is expensive. Southern states, generally, can reasonably avoid those costs.


I grew up in New York City, went to college in Central Pennsylvania, and clerked in Western Pennsylvania. I am very familiar with cold weather. And, growing up, I remember many New Yorkers would laugh when an inch of snow shut down a southern city. How could it be that these people cannot handle a little bit of ice, they would say? Why can't they drive? Here, I'll provide a helpful guide for cynical northerners to understand cold weather.

Maintaining preparedness for cold weather is expensive. And places with warmer climates can reasonably decide to avoid those costs.

First, in advance of a snow storm, sand and salt trucks have to treat the roads. Sand and salt, which must be maintained in advance of winter, are not free. Southern cities, budget conscious as always, do not need to maintain mounds of salt and sand. Snowstorms occur once in a blue moon. And when there is such a snowstorm, it is simpler to shut the city down for a day until the snow melts. I suspect even the most seasoned driver, with a 4×4 vehicle, would be unable to drive on an untreated road.

Second, up north, homes tend to have natural gas or oil-based heating. Even if the power goes out, the house stays warm. Moreover, northern homes are more likely to have functional fireplaces. Not here. When the power goes out, there is no heat, and no means to cook. At the present moment, my home has power. Fortunately, the power in my neighborhood has not cut off. It is warm here. And family friends without power are staying with us. Alas, we do not have running water. Why?

Third, homes in the north tend to insulate their pipes. But in cities where the temperature almost never dips below freezing, that cost can be avoided. Moreover, pipes can be built entirely below ground, or partially above ground. The former option is more costly, but avoids freezing. The latter option, which is cheaper, could lead to freezing. Again, small decisions that could save money become problematic with once-in-a-generation cold snaps.

At my college, classes were cancelled on Monday and Tuesday, and will be cancelled tomorrow as well. It is not possible to hold Zoom classes because half of the city is without power. Please pray for the people of Texas, and elsewhere.