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 4x4 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.

NEXT: "What Cheap Speech Has Done: (Greater) Equality and Its Discontents"

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  1. What I remember is the bumper sticker, "Drive Fast, Freeze a Yankee"

    It is weird. Today in Massachusetts, 57 degrees. Today in Dallas, single digits.

    1. Saw a map that a friend sent today. Entire country is cold. Much of it freezing. Florida is warm, with temps in 70s and 80s. "National Hate Florida Day."

      1. I'm in North Carolina. There isn't snow anywhere in the state, but they did have a nasty tornado that killed some people.

        Seattle is further north, but it doesn't take much snow to shut them down. Back around 89 or so, they got almost an inch of snow, and the entire city ground to a halt. the three-lane freeway was two lanes of abandoned cars and one lane of moving ones.
        I went to AF tech school at Lowry AFB, which is (was) just outside of Denver, Colorado. In my military occupation, they teach you to drive something officially called a "bomb lift vehicle", but colloquially called a "jammer". This is functionally equivalent to a forklift, except the part that lifts is a table, not a set of forks. To give us training in how the things work, they drop a few orange cones out in front of the training hangar, and we drive around the cones in whatever snow happened to fall the night before. It's tricky, because jammers have rear-wheel steering, which is different from what most people have experience driving. And there's a 500-pound bomb strapped to the lift table on the front of the jammer. If you get stuck in the snow, you just line up enough guys to pick up the whole thing, and put it wherever you wanted it in the first place. Once you've done that, driving in snow isn't scary any more.

        1. A lot of it just depends on how slick the snow is and a lot of hills.

          I don't care where you are if you start with freezing rain then get snow on top nothing is going to move for a while.

          I remember this incident in Seattle a few years ago, I could see from the window from my floor. A tour bus tried to turn around on a steep street and slid slow motion down the street, to end up hanging over the freeway which of shut down the freeway for 5 or 6 hours.

          1. The "viral video" moment from the storm I remember 30+ years ago involved a parking garage with an entrance halfway down the block, on a hill. One after another, a car would slowly start sliding down the hill, then the garage entrance was there so the wheels would turn furiously, as Newton's laws dragged the car to the bottom of the hill regardless. The amazing part was how each successive driver was just CERTAIN that his car was going to be the one to grip the ice and go into the garage.
            We're getting our supply of freezing rain overnight tonight.

          2. "I don’t care where you are if you start with freezing rain then get snow on top nothing is going to move for a while."

            snow first, then freezing rain wasn't awesome.

        2. Nothing seems safer than a bunch of guys carrying a forklift with a bomb attached to it through snow.

          1. We had practice. Every morning, we'd form up in front of the barracks and march over to the hangar, packing whatever snow had fallen overnight into a thin layer of extremely slippery ice. I'm fairly sure the officers were upstairs looking out the window taking bets on how many of us one person slipping could take down.
            The dangerous part of carrying a 500 pound bomb is the "500 pound" part, not the "bomb" part. They won't explode unless the fuse, which has a little propeller on the front, falls through a couple of thousand feet of air first. During the Vietnam War, the VC used to search for, and find, bombs that had been dropped but which didn't explode, cut them open with hacksaws, and extract the explosives from the bomb in order to make their own explosives, what they now call an IED.

      2. Yeah even here in Tucson it's below normal I had to reach for my warm hoodie, barely got to 60 today.

        Not that it couldn't get that cold here, the all-time low in Tucson is 6f, but we wouldn't have the power problems, we'd just cut off the power to California. California has shut down all their coal generation, but they still need it, so they have just outsourced it to Arizona.

    2. Stephen, not all of Massachusetts was 57 degrees -- it never made it above 36 on the North Shore. And it isn't "weird" when you remember that a NorEaster essentially is a hurricane that came from California rather than Africa. It is a very large tornado and (like a hurricane) it draws both moisture and energy from the warm ocean water.

      Cashes Ledge is 43 degrees right now -- See: https://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=44005 but further out is the Gulf Stream which very much is 57 degrees (and likely considerably more) -- and that dates back to Ben Franklin. That's probably where your 57 degree air came from.

      1. Dr Ed 2,

        Please don't tell me you live in Swampscott.

        That's my home town, graduated SHS, and even played QB for two games.

        It's OK (and actually expected) if you live in Marblehead though.

        The North Shore does have THE BEST roast beef sandwiches in the world though (Kellys, Bill and Bobs, and 1-2 local joints which prolly aren't there anymore).

        1. It’s been ages, but I fondly remember late-night runs to Kelly’s in the summer.

  2. "Second, up north, homes tend to have natural gas or oil-based heating. Even if the power goes out, the house stays warm. "

    Not necessarily true. A lot of the more modern high efficiency natural gas furnaces rely on electric ignition rather than a pilot light.

    1. plus electric fans to push the warm air to the far corners of the building.

      1. True, but it doesn't take nearly as large a generator (or as much fuel) to run the fan(s) and electronic bits as it would to run a heat pump or resistivity heating as well.

        Longevity bonus, of course, if your generator runs on natural gas or propane.

      2. The fan is what kills our heat when electrical power goes off.

        And if your in CA, don't worry, the state is moving to ban the burning of natural gas even for cooking. In the land of fruits and vegatbles that is the Green Raw Deal.

        1. How long before they come after you for lighting your farts?

          1. Mandatory Catalytic converters, dude...

            1. What kind of catalyst are you using? Charcoal?

    2. No electricity = no fan to move the air and no pump to move the water. I have solar panels (thanks to your tax dollars funding a tax deduction for them) and a battery big enough to last a night. Longest heat outage was when there was a gas leak and we had to shut the valve and wait several hours for a repairman. In an emergency the stove can be lit with a match, unlike the furnace.

      1. Are you sure you aren't backfeeding?

        1. If he was, I'm betting his batteries wouldn't last through the night -- but his neighbors might enjoy a couple hours of unexpected power.

    3. For now. Wait for the New Green Deal, when you’re forced to retrofit electric heat and block up your fireplace.

    4. "Not necessarily true. A lot of the more modern high efficiency natural gas furnaces rely on electric ignition rather than a pilot light."

      It's not even that -- most of them have exhaust blowers (so that the stack doesn't have to be fire rated) and a kill switch that shuts everything down if that blower isn't running. Then they are either hot air or hot water -- and that means that you either have a blower or a circ pump, both of which require electricity.

      Oil burners require another motor -- one that takes about five amps, it runs the (ignition air) blower and the oil pump -- it works by spraying oil into the blast of air, with an electric spark to ignite it. Don't work without electricity.

      Gas ranges can be manually lit with a match, but the oven will not work without 120 volt power -- *because* it has an electric ignition, it shuts off the gas when it has no power. It doesn't take much, but it's gotta have it.

      Most gas hot waters *will* work -- they have a pilot light and a microvolt control that doesn't require outside electricity.

      1. "It’s not even that — most of them have exhaust blowers (so that the stack doesn’t have to be fire rated)"

        Those high efficiency pulse (gas) furnaces don't exhaust out the chimney stack, they have a lateral exhaust (all PVC pipe) out the side of the house, along with an intake for fresh air for combustion. and a heat exchanger to transfer heat from the exhaust gas to house air. If you have central air, the AC ties into the same heat exchanger that the furnace uses.

        1. Yes, and if you are using Schedule 40 plastic pipe for your exhaust stack, you *absolutely* have to have a stack blower to keep the temperature below the melting point of said plastic pipe.

          I didn't want to pass them, but the gas inspector said that they were legal and I said "yes, sir -- if you say so, sir."

          Lateral is discouraged around here because of snowbanks, but I've seen Schedule 40 plastic up through the roof.

          1. snowbanks happen here too, (I'm in Wisconsin), but residual heat from the furnace exhaust gas generally keeps that from being a problem.

      2. If your area has frequent blackoutS, a 1 kW generator wired in through a switch ($2k to $3K installed0 can save lots of hastle, spoiled food and cold nights, not to mention no internet connection if you work from home

        1. It depends on how your internet is provided.
          If it comes via Cable TV, you are SOL because the box on your street needs power too.

          1. Fiber optic service is going to stop if the power is out, as well. They'll put in a small battery so you can use it to make phone calls for the first 24-48 hours or so, but if the power stays off longer than that, the battery will run down and you'll have to use cellular minutes to talk to outsiders.

    5. As I discovered in the 2007 ice storm after moving to Missouri, the furnace without power for the blower motor is useless even with a pilot light, but I had plenty of hot water that week.

      Now I have a backup generator, backup kerosene heating, and backup propane heating.

  3. Josh. A generator is a good investment. Back here, in this East Coast shithole, the neighbors spend 2 weeks a year in the 19th Century. You will need a gas line on your street. It runs the whole house after the power goes off longer than 10 seconds. If you don't have to go to a hotel, you get your money back in a few years.

    1. The Generac generators (whole house, natural gas fired) are not outrageously expensive. I figure 10K plus a few grand for installation. It is like a very expensive insurance policy that you know you will use multiple times. Worth the investment.

      1. The gas generator does sound like a big truck is running outside the house all night.

        Solar plus giant batteries in the basement is an alternative. The batteries require child slave labor. They are an ecological nightmare to make and to recycle. Not ready for prime time.

        1. Daivd, what do you think the engine *is*???

          The engines that are reliable in trucks are also used here, it's not like you go to Engines-R-Us and have one custom designed for your generator, and even if yours is burning natural gas, it's still piston-driven with explosions in 4-6-8 or even 12 cylinders. And yes, large generators (hospital size) use railroad locomotive engines.

          And even if you had an engine custom designed, it's still the same technology and hence will sound like what it is -- a truck engine.

          Now, you *can* have a manual kill switch on it -- once you get your refrigerator cold and your house warm, you turn it off so you can go to bed -- as you don't need electricity while you are asleep.

          1. Out on the flightline, the portable generators that power parked jet airplanes are turbine engines and you need hearing protection to work out there.

      2. 10K for a backup generator is outrageously expensive when your power goes out for any real duration once or twice every few years.

        1. If you live in a CA fire zone it is out a few times a year often for 2 or 3 days. That mean more than the standard Telse 25 kWHr battery can supply (cost ~$13K)

          1. If you live in a California fire zone the problem is getting too hot rather than too cold.

            1. Why people who live in California don't clear the flammable brush away from their homes is beyond me.

              1. It grows back.

              2. Back before I left California, not long after 9/11, their were homeowners caught between government agencies with one saying that they must remove brush because of the fire hazard and another saying that they cannot remove the brush because it was the habitat of some endangered critter.

          2. I don't live in CA fire zone or otherwise. I live in South Eastern Wisconsin. I've been in my current house for more than 10 years. The longest my power has ever been out has been around 8 hours or so. And that happens maybe once or twice in any 3 years.

            1. About 25 years or so back, I had an apartment in Beaverton, OR. Woke up early one morning because it was really cold. Noticed that the power was out. Went outside to see how big the outage was. Out there was a crew replacing the transformer on the street. Every one, all the way down the street, had failed during the night and the guys had a trailer full of new ones and they were working their way down the street, replacing all he transformers. I'd guess that cost me about 8 hours, but some of the apartments went more than 24 hours because the short day meant that they ran out of daylight before they ran out of transformers that needed replacing.

      3. An 11kw Generac is only $3k plus $1-2000 installation, including automatic transfer.

        You don't need that. Pick up a Honda 2200 for $1000, very quite, very frugal (12+ hours on a gallon of gasoline), 2200 watts, or a duel fuel propane/gasoline 4500 watt loud generator for $500. Run cords to the furnace, fridge, a light or two, and computers -- it will settle down to 2-300 watts.

        I'd go with the Honda unless you really need a whole house generator and automatic transfer.

        1. " Run cords to the furnace, fridge, a light or two, and computers — it will settle down to 2-300 watts."

          My computer has an 800w power supply. The original PC used a 63.5W supply, but it was also running a 4.77 GHz and had 0.0 megabytes of hard disk storage.

          1. It may have the ability to supply 800w, but I doubt that it's using that. Outside of your monitor(s), if it's Energy Star rated (and they all are now), I'd be surprised if it was actually using 100 watts.

            If it's using 800 watts, it's producing 800 watts of heat -- that's a portable electric heater on the low setting. You'd notice that...

            The 486 chips were the worst in terms of power consumption -- those computers did draw 500 watts -- modern ones don't.

            1. " if it’s Energy Star rated (and they all are now), I’d be surprised if it was actually using 100 watts."

              You might want to look up how much power a processor uses before you make pronouncements like that. 205W for the processors alone (each)

              "If it’s using 800 watts, it’s producing 800 watts of heat"

              No shit. Guess that's why they put a heat sink in the thing, and all those exhaust fans.

              "The 486 chips were the worst in terms of power consumption"

              No, first-generation Pentium chips used more power than any 486, and modern server processors use WAY more. Depending on what video cards you're running, the power draw can get positively crazy. Or get an Intel NUC, which runs on a wall-wart transformer.

              Guess this was just another example of you sounding off on something you didn't know nearly as much about as you had imagined you did.

              1. Funny how that keeps happening.l

      4. C_XY,
        Your estimate (I'd say based on a 5kW generator) is high if you don't want to power every electrical appliance in the house. AT present if your house has gas service it is very convenient

        1. Yeah, Commenter_XY doesn't believe in doing things half-way. When the power goes out, I want to be up and running everything within 30 seconds. Gotta have some creature comforts. 🙂

          1. Back in the olden days, it was possible to run an entire house without any electricity.

            1. If you go back far enough, it was necessary to run every house without any electricity (because there wasn't any). Those weren't the good old days.

              1. Mr. Franklin would like to direct your attention to his discovery that electricity exists in nature. And archeological evidence suggests that the Leyden jar goes back to the Egyptians, long before Leyden was born.

            2. Back in the olden days, we did not have indoor plumbing which would break if the house got too cold.

    2. MAKE SURE YOU INSTALL IT TO CODE!!!! -- Your entire house has to be disconnected from utility power *before* your generator picks up the load or you will backfeed. Your 220 volts will go backwards through the transformers and get boosted to 8700 volts on the poles (or wires down in the street) and then even higher on the high tension lines. Very low amperage, but it only takes 1/10th of an amp to kill someone. People have died because of this!

      You can also get whole house generators that run on propane (LP) or Diesel. Smaller portable ones run on gasoline and after every major Maine snowstorm, there is always at least one idiot who killed his family by running the thing indoors. There are THREE warnings about carbon monoxide, one that you have to destroy to fill the gas tank, and it still happens...

      1. I am not allowed to touch anything mechanical to avoid a catastrophe. The generator was professionally installed by a licensed master electrician. He does the yearly maintenance.

        1. I hope you start it monthly -- or it may not when you need it.

          1. It runs automatically a half hour every week.

            1. Hopefully, your electrician tests it under full load.

              One of my many UMass stories -- and this one was documented by media in two states, so you can look it up...

              UMass had a (then) brand new sports arena and was having a "Midnight Madness" basketball event, something about some NCAA reg and this was a big event with all the TV news folk there (which was fortunate). And there was a thunderstorm which took out the three-wire (13,600 volt) utility feed circuit that was powering the Mullen's Center and the whole place plunged into utter darkness.

              It had a generator, which immediately started, and was idling nicely, but what no one had known was that the switch that kicks over from utility power to generator power was defective and it would not kick over. So they had 12,000 people in utter darkness.

              Fortunately the TV crews had lights for their cameras and the police lined up the TV crews along the exit route so that people could find their way out.

              True story, although the latter part is not publicly known. And that's why I suggest you want your guy to test your generator under load....

              1. And once, the lights went out during a football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens.

                1. If that's the incident I think it was, it was caused by being concurrently connected to both line and generator power.

                  If it were DC it wouldn't matter, but the voltage on AC is reversing 120 times a second (on all three phases) and since your generator's sine curves aren't going to be lined up with the power company's, you're going to have real problems if they are connected to each other.

                  1. "If that’s the incident I think it was"

                    It got a lot of coverage. Not quite like the World Series Earthquake, but a lot of people were watching when it happened.

  4. Hope your power stays on! Stay safe and warm!

  5. Well, my theory is that every US city fails when the snowfall exceeds the once in every-ten-or-twenty year level. NYC does fine with an inch of snow but not so well with two feet.

    Snoqualmie Pass does okay with two feet but probably shuts down with six.

    As the post states, it's usually uneconomic to plan to cope with snowfall levels that only occur a few times a century.

    1. I'll tell you what else is uneconomic: converting the electric power generation to wind and solar and batteries, then needing backup conventional power that can handle a 50 year freeze event when all your renewable power quits working for a week.

      1. Obviously you remain blissfully ignorant that nothing anywhere close to that is what happened in Texas. Wind makes up 13-15% of their energy. With other types, renewables make up 22% of their electricity. Gas (some 52%) and coal (once a third, now less than a fifth) make up most of the remaining 78%.

        But my favorite part? Believing Texas — yes, THAT Texas — converted all of their energy to wind and solar and only use “conventional” production as a backup. Even without the numbers above it’s a silly thing to consider as likely.

    2. It's the unexpected -- and I've seen it three times in New England.
      Back in the 1990s, Maine got a week of freezing rain which brought down a lot of trees and wires and most of the state was without power for a couple of weeks.

      Then Massachusetts & New Hampshire had a rain storm where it became freezing rain above 1000 feet and it brought down lots of trees and wires and the affected areas were without power for a couple of weeks.

      Then the Pioneer Valley had the freak Halloween snowstorm in 2011 -- over a foot of wet snow when the leaves were still on the trees --- and it brought down lots of trees and wires and folk were without power for a couple of weeks. The trees that came down were the ones that had been young/healthy enough to have survived the 1938 Hurricane -- once every 70 years or so, something like this happens.

      New York City had a massive Blizzard in 1888.

      1. If having snow and ice on all the trees causes massive blackouts, why don't they trim the trees before winter comes?

  6. "I suspect even the most seasoned driver, with a 4×4 vehicle, would be unable to drive on an untreated road."

    There are areas up here (I'm in Wisconsin) where people regularly drive such vehicles on frozen over lakes during the winter in years that are cold enough for the ice to get thick enough to support the vehicles weight.

    A seasoned driver used to icy and snowy conditions with a 4x4 vehicle is not going to be stopped or even significantly slowed down by an untreated road with just 1 or two inches of snow. Freezing rain would be a different story.

    1. What I remember from Denver 30 years ago, the drivers didn't even slow down for snow.

      I went to law school in Portland, OR. At the end of the fall semester of my second year, we got a foot of snow and then an inch of freezing rain on top of that. Portland normally gets snow that sticks to the ground about once every other year. The whole city was a mess, and the law school is on top of a hill. The weather hit literally on Tuesday of the first week of final exams. Some people didn't finish their finals until the second week of the next semester.

      1. I packed up and left Portland forever after a 3-inch fall. But that was ash from Mt. St. Helens.

        1. Portland only got significant ashfall from one of the four Mt. St. Helens eruptions of the 1980's. Washington County (west from Portland) was just starting its transition from primarily agriculture to primarily technology manufacturing. The one ashfall we got made for some bodacious roostertails on some of those back-country roads.

    2. Yup. People who aren't used to driving in snow can't drive in snow, and this is very clear when you watch people in warmer climates try to drive during a snowstorm.

      1. Driving on snow isn't hard, just different, and Southerners have trouble transitioning when the rare event happens. The snow-covered roads look ... unnatural; like a disturbance in The Force.

        The amazing secret is that most (born) Southerners already know how to drive in snow, and have done it many times. It's the same way of driving your Grandma to the church social. She puts two gallon jugs of sweet-tea, a brimming basket of biscuits, and a pecan pie on the back seat ('they might get dirty on the floor') and sits in the front holding an open pot flush with gravy. Your job, as you've done so many times before, is to get from her house to the church without upsetting any of it. Or her. With the gravy a half-inch below the rim, the only option is to accelerate very softly, brake softer, and take every curve and turn so evenly that nothing spills. Just have to think ahead.

        For process-minded transplants without access to grandmas or aged aunts, drive with an open-topped full cup of hot coffee on the dashboard. A styrofoam cup or similar is recommended so you can see the liquid level change. Wedging the cup is cheating and oddballs can use hot tea instead; I'm open-minded. If you get good at it you can drive on this here ice.

        1. As a bonus, the cups of water will let you know if there are any tyrannosaurs nearby.

        2. I have driven on county roads where accumulated packed snow and ice got thick enough to start developing pot-holes of it's own, separate from the pot-holes in the underlying pavement.

          Road conditions: Wait, there's supposed to be a road here?

      2. " People who aren’t used to driving in snow can’t drive in snow, and this is very clear when you watch people in warmer climates try to drive during a snowstorm."

        But for some reason, they're willing to TRY to drive in the snow. And they can't drive in the rain, either.

    3. “I suspect even the most seasoned driver, with a 4×4 vehicle, would be unable to drive on an untreated road.”

      They've probably got Black Ice down there, and the only thing that works on that are studded snow tires or chains -- although in a pinch you can get some traction from the rumble strip on the side of the road.

      I would *not* drive a 4x4 on ice --- I'd go to 2 wheel drive because the front and back axles fight with each other and can get you into situations you otherwise wouldn't be in.

      A nd the other thing about an untreated road is that every car that drives over it turns the snow to ice -- the weight of the tires causes the snow to melt, just like ice skates do. So if you have a lot of traffic, snow becomes ice really quickly if the road isn't treated.

      I headed out of Houlton (where I-95 goes into Canada) one night in heavy snow -- they'd closed the border but let the locals go home, and there had to be 6+ inches of snow on the road. Not a problem as it was loose snow -- and then I've seen roads shut down by a quarter inch of slush that froze as temperatures dropped.

      And if it's still raining, salt doesn't work because it gets washed off the road.

      1. Personal pet peeve, but is it certainly not black ice. It's just ice.

        Black ice is when exhaust from a car freezes on a roadway. It's an very thin layer that is impossible to see. To get it, you need very cold temperatures (if the roads are salted, it must be at least below 0) and areas where cars are idling (e.g., traffic jams, intersections).

        What most people refer to as "black ice" is just ice. They just call it "black ice" because that way people can't scold them for not paying attention to the ice that was known or visible on the roadway.

        1. It’s called “black ice” because the road surface either looks wet or appears to be plain pavement when it’s actually covered with a thin layer of translucent ice.

          Nobody calls it “black ice” because they don’t want to be scolded. Nobody ever except you, I guess.

        2. "Black ice is when exhaust from a car freezes on a roadway. "

          Uh, no. Black ice is when you can see through the ice to the black pavement underneath it, but can't see the ice.

          1. I've had black ice develop on the front step of my house well away from any car exhaust.

            It's just thin clear ice.

            Actually, the most common spot to find black ice on road ways is on overpasses when you have relatively warm day temperatures with a big drop overnight.

            Friction from traffic, combined with warmth from sun light melt snow and ice on the road surface during the day, and then the fact that it's an overpass, air flow underneath quickly cools the road surface as well as the cold air above and the wet melt on the road surface refreezes very clear.

        3. No. It's called Black Ice because (unlike snow and most ice) it is clear and hence the road looks merely wet. The way to tell (at night) is that the color of the reflected taillights will be a slightly different shade of red than the taillights themselves are, almost a little more blue but you gotta see it to understand.

          It has no air in it, it is laid down much as the smooth ice surface on an ice rink is, and you can't walk on it, either.

          I ran into it once at dawn as a fog coming off the ocean proceeded to freeze on the back side of hill, a freezing fog will form it. As will snow blowing onto a sun-warmed road.

          As to exhaust freezing -- I've seen it freeze on cars (and it's kinda scary to see how much it comes around to the front of the vehicle) but I've never seen significant ice on the pavement from it.

    4. And the ice is what will get you.

      Atlanta had rain much of yesterday. Then temperatures in the 20's overnight. Guess what we had this morning?

      Answer: fantastic breakfast theater of the neighborhood rednecks with 4x4 trucks getting halfway up the hill, then sliding back down to try again.

      1. Worst I've ever experienced is not freezing rain, but freezing fog. A half inch layer of ice over my entire car and it gets into the locks and the spaces between the door and the door frame.

    5. If you never putzed along a country road in 10 inches of fresh powder untouched by any other vehicle, making it nearly impossible to even tell where the road is except by memory . . . sometimes with white-out conditions on top of that . . . you're missing out on all the fun!

      1. I remember one time driving on a rural highway on the Olympic peninsula of Washington. Some jackass came roaring up behind me at freeway speed, slowed down behind me for maybe a half-mile, then roared around me, cutting me off as closely as he could to make a point that he thought my speed was inadequate, and then just a couple miles further on passed him where he'd slid off the road. Fortunately, the snow and ice didn't stretch all the way to the Tacoma Narrows bridge, which is intimidating enough in broad daylight with good weather. (It's very high and very narrow and the wind blows really hard broadside to the bridge.)

  7. I'm torn between laughing when Brownsville or southern Florida gets a wind chill advisory for temperatures in the 30s, and feeling bad for them.

    1. they're not used to having weather cold enough to freeze water pipes.

      1. Nor, apparently, bright enough to leave them running so they don't freeze.

        As an aside, frozen pipes also tend to split open, but the ice serves as a plug to prevent leaks. But when that ice melts -- things can get very interesting, very quickly. Know where your water shut off valve IS -- usually next to your water meter where the pipe comes into your house.

        1. No, it's out in the street in front of the house. Which made some concern last summer when they repaved and didn't clear the water valve.

          1. Yes, that's the street valve -- there should also be one at your water meter inside the house.

            1. Read carefully. The meter is out under the street.

      2. Wind chill (not base temp) in the 30s is probably not enough to freeze water pipes.

  8. I suspect even the most seasoned driver, with a 4×4 vehicle, would be unable to drive on an untreated road.

    You said you had cold weather experience, then didn't mention anyplace with cold weather. Untreated roads are slippery at near-freezing temperatures, down maybe to the high teens. Colder than that and you can drive on them fine. By the time you get down to mid single digits—still above-average mid-winter temps where I was—it's pretty much like driving on pavement.

    No need for four-wheel drive—although of course every nitwit newcomer in town had to have the biggest pickup he could get. Those were the ones you saw upside-down off the main highway. They knew you could drive fast; they didn't know four-wheel drive didn't do much to help you stop. After one memorable white-out storm, in an 11-mile stretch I counted 8 four-wheel pickups off the highway, 5 of them upside down. Only big pickups were casualties.

    I lived for years in the northern Rockies. Towns there not only didn't treat the roads, they made only minimal efforts to remove the snow. On major roads they picked it up with front end loaders, and carted it off in semi-sized dump trucks. No loaders or dump trucks in the South?

    On less-traveled residential streets they would plow it as high as they could on the sides, then let it pack down. Packed snow was what you drove on all winter. If you didn't have high ground clearance, you waited a few hours after a storm to drive. After the bigger storms, they would run a road grader over it, to scrape the top off the depth.

    Put salt on a street like that and you made a slippery, gooey mess, which never went away—so you didn't use salt unless it was warm enough that the snow would actually melt. A slippery gooey mess is what it became on its own in the spring. You drove in ruts so deep you had to be careful not to wrench your tires off. Then mud season began. Everyone went south in the spring.

    1. He mentioned MA, PA twice. Does that not count as cold weather experience?

      1. I move to Massachusetts for the warm weather.

  9. "I suspect even the most seasoned driver, with a 4×4 vehicle, would be unable to drive on an untreated road."

    Speaking as a former Michiganian who attended college in the Copper Country, (300 inches of snow a year!) I beg to differ. My wife had to visit D.C. in 2010 to renew her Philippine passport. We found the roads pleasantly uncrowded.

  10. We don't need a law professor at a tier 5 law school to teach us how to deal with cold weather.

    1. You trying out an Arthur imitation? 😛

      1. I give him a B-. You need to use the word "clinger" multiple times, and tell us for the umpteenth time how the arc of history is on your side, and you are content that we are losing the culture war.

        1. BL,
          Thank you for the "gentleman's B-"

          1. If this was a tier 1 school, it would be a gentleman's A-

            1. If this was a tier 1 school, it might have some gentlemen in it.

    2. Josh. Ignore the supercilious, elitist, leftist schmucks. No one in this shithole state is cynical of Texas. The real Americans here aspire to be Texas or to move to Texas.

      1. Why aren't the "real" Americans already in Texas? I'll tell you why. It's uninhabitable in the summer. I very carefully arranged to spend a summer in Texas for basic military training then I went to Denver for the winter.

  11. It is more than just the cold. Wind turbines froze. Gas and oil line spigots froze so gas and oil couldn't be used in many gas and oil plants. Those gas and oil plants still online initially were able to up production to help deal with demand until reserves at those plants began to be depleted. Normally we could bring more oil and gas to those plants still working however because prices have been low due to covid, production volumes have correspondingly been low.

    1. They 'saved money' by building to a 50 year storm instead of a 100 year storm, I guess.

    2. Methane liquifies (not even freezes) at something like 300 degrees below zero -- they had to have water of some sort in somewhere to freeze and that sounds like poor maintenance to me.

      Now ice forming on valves exposed to the elements and precluding them from being turned -- that I can see...

      1. It is the latter ice is frozen on the outside preventing the opening of valves and the like.

        1. And that's when you send bubba out with two five gallon buckets of hot water. It's slightly below freezing, not 30-40 below, and I'd be really surprised if the ice held up to one bucket, let alone two -- there's a lot of heat in a gallon of hot water, let alone ten....

          Although I do understand the safety issue and that you don't want the vale to be stuck open, either...

          1. When you quickly heat metal that is cold, what you do is crack it. You probably do not want to crack the metal in and near your power-generation facilities.

  12. Ice storms in the South generally come with no snow or sleet, so it’s just a level sheet of ice on the road. That’s a lot harder to drive on than snow.

    1. Ice storms in he everywhere tend to result in a level sheet of ice on the road. That's what makes them "ice storms".

      Freezing rain IS way worse to try to drive on than fresh snow, but then so is ordinary, non-frozen rain.

  13. It's too bad Texas isn't part of an interstate power grid. That would be helpful in times like this. Take care Texans!

    1. Texas does have interconnects to allow cross feeding power with the east coast grid, not sure about the west coast grid. But like but of them, if enough power plants go offline, you can't get the power to where it needs to be.

      1. The northwest gets a lot of its electric power from the dams on the Columbia. They don't tend to go offline because of cold. (They do,sometimes, if it stays cold up in British Columbia, then the snow there stays snow and doesn't melt to form the river water.)

    2. Worth noting that not all of Texas is on the Texan power grid, and the SPP, which stretches into North Dakota, is instituting rolling blackouts.

      The upper midwest is finally starting moderate in temperatures. Areas in North Dakota and northern Minnesota fell to -40 or lower. And yes, power is required to heat homes (as discussed in earlier comments).

  14. Josh, we don't bury water pipes to keep them from freezing -- as long as the water is moving, it won't freeze. Ski areas have their pipes on the surface and as long as the water is always moving (they pump it up for snowmaking operations) and as long as some idiot doesn't forget to always have a few guns going, the pipes don't freeze.

    No, we put our pipes below the frost line (usually 3 feet down) for a very different reason -- frost heaves. When the ground thaws, it shifts like little earthquakes and we don't want the pipes snapped in half when that happens.

    1. "as long as the water is moving, it won’t freeze."

      F for physics, Ed. Niagara falls has frozen on several historical occasions. the water freezes, but the resultant ice doesn't crystallize in place, it gets carried off along with the flowing water.

  15. Remember when those people were asking “why weren’t we prepared?!!!” for a once-in-100-years pandemic?

    Why doesn’t each household in the south spend many thousands of dollars preparing for a couple of very cold days every 5 years?

    Because preparing for extreme outlier events is wasteful and whatever you do you're probably going to get it wrong. Those emergency supplies will go bad. Those all-weather tires won't be new enough for the tread to help. You won't have gas for the generator you never use. And it won’t start when you get back from the gas station. Etc.

    Some extremely basic preparation is helpful. Beyond that, it’s a waste. Whatever we do next year and in 2023, we certainly shouldn’t try to be completely prepared for the next once-in-100-years pandemic.

    1. How about spending $30?

      Buy sterno. Buy MREs. Have enough intelligence to leave your water faucets dripping overnight. Have a few extra blankets that you never expect to need, and keep the old ugly sweaters that you'd otherwise throw away.

      That and the standard working flashlights (have at least two because one *will* break) and battery powered radio doesn't add up to all that much money, does it?

  16. I live in northern NYS and I am wondering if the good people in the warmer climates are figuring out that our higher taxes and cost of living aren't only higher because we're _____ (fill in the blank). It's also because salt, snow plows, gas furnaces, insulated pipes, snow tires, warm clothes, back up generators, etc etc etc cost money.

    1. In Oregon, I didn't need the kind of furnace you need in Buffalo or the kind of central AC you need in Houston. There's no lake-effect snow and no hurricane season. But there is the occasional earthquake. Plus, you're not allowed to pump your own gas in the city. You get what you get, where you get it. Back in the 1980's, we WERE downwind of the volcano, but it's been mostly quiet since then, unlike the Hawaiian ones, so we just have the occasional tourist thrown into the volcano, instead of wasting local virgins. Mostly, we picked the tourists who didn't know what an "ice cornice" was.

  17. I'm from NJ. When I started South Texas law school in 1974 there was a natural gas shortage and bitter cold in the north east. Factories were shut down so that homes would not go without heat. Pickup trucks in Houston sported bumper stickers: "Let the damn yankees freeze in the dark". It has taken 47 years. Karma.

  18. 70s+ in Southern California for the next two weeks. For all of its faults (pun somewhat intended) I would rather live here than anywhere else. Perfect weather 90% of the time, with the occasional earthquake or devastating fire (just don't live in fire country), where else can you go to the beach in the morning and snow skiing in the afternoon?

    1. " Perfect weather 90% of the time, with the occasional earthquake or devastating fire (just don’t live in fire country)"

      Everywhere in southern California is "fire country" You just haven't had THAT fire yet. A bit north, they learned that lesson in 1903.

      "where else can you go to the beach in the morning and snow skiing in the afternoon?"

      Head up I-5 until you hit Portland, which is an hour from Seaside and an hour from Mt. Hood Meadows.

  19. I remember starting out from Houston driving north to Arkansas in December around 1990. It was upper 60's and humid in Houston when I left, but everyone knew a front was coming in, the overnight low was forecast to drop to 5 degrees. By the time I was on the road 2 hours it had dropped to freezing and the weather had progressed from clear to violent thunderstorms to snow.

  20. homes in the north tend to insulate their pipes.

    As a long-time Tennessean now living in New England, let me say that sensible southerners also insulate their pipes.

    It's cheap and easy and saves a shitload of trouble on the not-really-rare occasions when temperatures get really low.

    1. "homes in the north tend to insulate their pipes"

      My experience, living in NY and New England all my life, is that this is not so, unless we're talking about outside pipes, i.e., in crawl spaces under homes without basements (which are atypical) or for mobile homes/trailers. I have never seen a pipe in a house insulated against the cold, only hot water pipes insulated to save on energy costs, and speed up hot to the tap.

  21. As a resident of Los Angeles, I have similar thoughts when other parts of the country get excited about having a few days above 100F.

    (But yes, I understand that when it's not normal for you, you don't buy an air conditioner.)

  22. We are no strangers to snow and ice here in NoVa/DC yet everyone still shits their pants and schools close at the mere mention of snow. I don’t get it because we have the sample plows, salt, and heating systems they do in colder places and everyone has snow boots they will wear if the temp goes below 40.

    1. "Here, I'll provide a helpful guide for cynical northerners to understand cold weather."

      The cynicism doesn't come from the cold weather problems, it comes from the secession activities Texans are taking.

      Oh, and I'm praying for Texans - just prolly not in the way you want.

  23. I live in PA. Only many wood stoves (not all, some have distribution fans and motors for efficiency) and some really old das and oil heaters that have pilot lights (not the efficient ones, mandated be our all knowing betters) will run without power.

  24. 45°N 86°W Island in Lake Michigan

    500 gallons of propane for a gas log that works fine as a convection heater.

    5 gallons of lamp oil for Aladdin Welsbach lamp 100 watts light and abundant heat.

    Plenty of pristine snow. Electric baseboard heat from local 2.5 MWe DG set subsidized rates for heat.

  25. I can understand not preparing for cold weather when below freezing temps are a once in 10 year event, but I was once in San Antonio during a rain storm. The highways flooded because the roads hadn't been graded with a crown that allowed for drainage. That's not saving money prudently, it's just lazy.

    1. San Antonio gets rain storms. I did basic traning in the summertime, and the thunderstorm would show up, drop two inches of rain, and be gone again an hour later.

  26. "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. "

    Thanks. As a Northerner, I had no idea!

    "I suspect even the most seasoned driver, with a 4×4 vehicle, would be unable to drive on an untreated road."


    Some smaller city side streets almost never get plowed. They just get packed down by traffic. Packed snow is perfectly good for driving on.

    Hey, who does the salting for the Ice Road Truckers that literally drive on frozen lakes and oceans? Great show! https://www.history.com/shows/ice-road-truckers

    "New Yorkers would laugh when an inch of snow shut down a southern city."

    Well, Upstate New Yorkers laugh when 6 inches of snow shuts down New York City.

    All in good fun...

    1. Back in 89 or 90, about 3/4" of snow shut down Seattle. About 2 or 3 years ago, about 4" of snow crippled Portland. The problem there was that the snow started about 11am, after everyone went to work. So, at noon, everyone made excuses at work and rushed home. jamming the highways and major arterials, and keeping the sanding trucks from putting any sand on the snow. 5 o-clock came around, and I left work, put on my tire chains, and started for home. the freeway was impassable, because of the number of people who spun out and eventually walked away from their cars. I finally made it home around 2am.

  27. Halloween 2004- Marquette, Michigan. My wife and I were sitting watching the rain and, she said; let's go for a drive. We drove 1 mile uphill from Marquette toward Negaunee. We were in a freakin' Blizzard. 3 miles later, she suggested turning around. Back to Marquette where, it was still raining. I wish GoPro's were invented then.

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