Lessons From Snowpocalyse 2011

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For about five days in January, Atlanta was paralysed by a freak ice storm that turned mighty interstates into ice rinks. However, the real spectacle was watching Atlantans deal with this unexpected and unwelcome visitor.

Some employers like to give prospective hires “stress interviews” with the aim of finding the “true” personality beneath the interviewer’s facade. If that strategy works, Atlantans have been “stress interviewing” for the last five days straight, and quite a few unique personality traits have emerged. Based on what I witnessed through the Internet and the news media, most people were coming down with cabin fever on about day two or three. But there was a minority of people happy to be in their homes as long as food, power, and Internet connections remained unaffected. Dealing with the shutdown also taught me how much I like my work. In years past, I looked forward to bad weather the way a schoolboy would and searched for a valid reason to stay home. This time I eyed my ice-glazed, steeply-sloped driveway and had the crazy thought that I might actually make it safely down to the street.

For the most part, the ice storm was a stressor, and it was amusing to see all the ways people dealt with the sudden loss of mobility. Humor was a common coping mechanism with words like “snowpocalypse” and “snowmageddon” being bandied about with a wink. One risk-taker among us made the most of an icy city street when he strapped on a pair of ice skates and shared the road with a Jeep. Still others wasted no time in figuring out who was to blame when the streets remained frozen day after day. For my own part, I sank the extra free time into streaming Netflix movies. By day four, I had had all the media I could stand and decided to scrape the ice off my driveway for no apparent reason: the road beyond was still icier. However, getting out of the house and the satisfaction of seeing two trenches in the ice that could (in theory) carry my car downhill in something less that a full skid were my rewards.

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One thing I learned right away was how easy it is to make assumptions and how badly things can go when those assumptions turn out to be wrong. Conventional wisdom has it that when you see a black puddle during a snowstorm, it’s probably not water at all but nearly-frictionless black ice. Similarly, looking out my window I saw nothing but sheets of ice on the streets. But a few blocks away the roads were clear and dry. All it took was a little less traffic or the shade of a tree to keep an ice patch alive long enough to render a street impassable. Those brave (or foolish) enough to drive on ice quickly learned that four-wheel drive works marginally on ice…until reaching a hill, when all four tires succumb to gravity and lines of cars slide helplessly down-slope. News videos of open lanes on highways gave hope, but frozen off-ramps took it away. After five days of nervously peeking out from my home and wondering when it would be safe to travel, I learned how little control I had and how much damage a tenth of an inch of smooth ice can do to anyone’s ability to travel.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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