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Local Editorials

When an inch might was well be a foot

Someone recently posted online the results of a survey of school districts across all 50 states to determine at what snow level schools are all but certain to cancel classes on any given day.

Most of Iowa fell in the 6- to 12-inch range. But for our friends in the South and Southeast, the study found schools generally are cancelled whenever any snowfall occurs.

A few days later, that study began to be scrutinized all over again when students in Atlanta were forced to spend the night at their schools due to hazardous conditions created by a rare winter storm. They got about a 0.1 of an inch of ice, followed by about an inch of snow.

For its part, the National Weather Service in Peachtree, Ga., had accurately predicted they had never seen a storm like it, and didn’t know how to forecast for it. But, local television meteorologists tried to “wing it,” resulting in the 18-hour commute and stranded motorists we saw on TV earlier this week.

For those of us here in Iowa, it may seem silly, or a laughing matter when chaos ensues over a little snow and ice. But, for folks in states like Florida, Alabama and Georgia, it’s no laughing matter.

For starters, accumulating snowfall happens in that part of the country perhaps once, maybe twice, in a lifetime. Ice accumulation, on the other hand, is even more rare.

Here in Iowa, we have snowplows. And on the backs of those snowplows, we have machines that drop down salt, sand and salt brine mixtures to melt ice.

In the South, they don’t. And, it would be a horrible waste of taxpayers’ money to have them standing by just to be used once every couple decades.

The best our friends down there can do is send out road graders and endloaders, hoping they don’t tear up the roadways as they scrape away some of the snow. The ice, well, you just have to wait for the sun and warmer temperatures to melt it all away.

But that’s just the roadways. Imagine what pedestrians had to deal with, too.

Just about the time winter rolls around in Iowa, there isn’t a store where you can’t find ice scrapers, rock salt and snow shovels, as well as snowblowers. In the South, that would be a profound novelty, and probably a really bad business move.

Can you imagine the looks on the faces of Floridians, walking through their local Walmart and finding snowblowers? “Hanging chads” would be the least of their worries.

Having lived in Florida for about three years during my time in the Navy, I know this time of the year is usually the coldest time of the year for the state. In the south, near Miami, it may get as cold as the mid-60s, while in the Pensacola and Tallahassee area, the mid-40s aren’t uncommon.

And that’s with the nearly-constant relative humidity of 95 to 98 percent. The first time I experienced the mid-50s at that level of humidity, I was frozen to the bone, and it rocked my world.

The concept of wearing my winter peacoat when it was 50 F didn’t compute with a kid who grew up playing outside when it was minus-10 F. But, it eventually helped me to understand how the weather these folks experienced this week was just as earthshattering to them.

Sure, to us, it was “only an inch” of snow. But to the folks in the South, it might as well have been a foot.

• • •

If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.

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