No, Southerners Can't Drive In Snow
This column originally appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on January 29, 2014 but still holds true today.
Here it comes. Wait for it.
Go to your front door, and take in the majesty of the fresh snow. (Assuming there is snow, that is. Newspaper deadlines being what they are, I'm writing this as the first flakes fall.)
Now close your eyes and listen. That sound you hear is a chorus of Northerners griping about Hampton Roads drivers.
They say the same thing every time we get a few flakes.
"I'm from Buffalo (Boston or Schenectady, pick your city) and I KNOW how to handle this weather," they boast. "People around here can't drive in the snow."
News flash: If you've lived here for more than a year, chances are, you drive like the rest of us on snow-packed roads.
Don't take my word for it. Listen to The Pilot's automotive editor, Larry Printz. He's a Philadelphia native who went to college in snow country, at Syracuse University. He knows a lot about cars and a thing or two about winter conditions.
"Northerners are just as bad as Southerners when it comes to driving around here," he said.
Hah. Told you.
It has to do with rusty skills, Printz told me Tuesday.
"They call it your 'snow legs,' " he explained. "People in the North have trouble driving in the first snowstorm every year, and they always say it's because they don't yet have their snow legs."
By the second or third snowfall, it comes back to them, he said.
So, if you've been living in the South for even a few winters, your snow legs are back in Buffalo or Boston. And your driving is as Southern as sweet tea.
Congratulations. Looks like you may not be the best driver in town. In fact, you may be part of the problem.
You and your tires, that is.
They're probably too soft. Printz said chronic under-inflation is a common problem. Especially in a place like Hampton Roads, where it can be 65 degrees one day and 25 the next. Flabby tires don't grip the road well.
Beyond that, some folks have performance tires on their sporty rides. Those perform miserably in the snow.
Most of the rest of us have all-season tires on our suburbo-boxes, which are OK. But winter tires would be better. And almost no one has those.
Except Printz. He has a perfect set on the Audi he's driving right now.
It wouldn't make a difference for the rest of us, though. We're hot messes when we drive in snow because we don't get enough practice.
I found that out when I took the clown car for a spin after last week's storm. On the crest of what passes for a hill around here, I hit a slippery patch. I began to slide, and suddenly I could hear my late father's New Jersey accent.
"Always turn into a skid," he said.
I had no idea what that meant.
"What you want to do if you're skidding is point your car in the direction you want to go," Printz told me.
"If you're sliding toward a tree, look out of your side window, like a race car driver, and turn your car where you want it to go.
"If you concentrate on the tree, you'll hit it," Printz said.
If the weather forecasts are accurate, road conditions will be hazardous for the next day or two. Or three.
What do you say we all put air in our tires and refrain from hurling geographical driving insults at one another.
Because no one who lives around here has grown a set of snow legs. Yet, anyway.