On Tuesday, January 28, snow started to fall upon Birmingham, Alabama and for the following two days the city fell into chaos. Families were separated, abandoned cars littered the freeways, highways shut down, businesses, schools and the government shut down, and the zombies started to roam the once modern city.
Just kidding. About the zombie part a least. But if you saw the looks on peoples faces— we may have well have been reenacting an episode of “The Walking Dead.” Three inches of snow, which immediately turned to ice, on a city not ready and not used to snow and ice created a few zombie days of not knowing what was up, where we were, or what day it was. If you saw the news reports about Atlanta and the effects of snow on that major metropolis, we experienced the same thing— just on a smaller scale. Children slept at their schools, parents slept at work, families were stuck on the interstates for hours, people walked miles to get home, abandoning cars that were hit, stuck, or where it was just to dangerous to move. We were still trying to recover over a week later.
When I moved from Hawaiʻi to Birmingham, Alabama with my husband and son this summer, I was prepared to be faced with strange new weather. High heat and humidity, as well as cooler temperatures, unlike anything I had ever experienced in my tropical homeland. I know, what a change, what a move, are you crazy? Yes, I’ve heard it all. I no longer have 20 minute access to the ocean, and rarely need to slather sunscreen all over myself—but I still have a hurricane kit in my kitchen pantry and an emergency roadside kit in my trunk.
Why you ask? Let’s just say after living though Hurricane Ewa in 1982 and Iniki in 1992, and several tsunamis— that thankfully arrived in inches rather than feet— when I heard I was moving to a town that tracked tornados, thunder storms, AND hurricanes— my need for a an emergency kit being packed and ready to go was foremost in my mind.
I figured, even if we don’t get a tornado or a hurricane, and even if it doesn’t snow or drop golfball sized hail— if nothing else we should be prepared for a zombie apocalypse— because then we’ll be ready for anything. Right?
Okay, maybe I have a bit of “The Walking Dead” on my brain, as I am two hours from Atlanta and the CDC, but really, I’d like to think it’s because I grew up on a small island which made me truly grasp the concept of planning ahead for my small family. When Hawai’i is hit with a natural disaster, we are basically cut off from mainland help for at least 72 hours. So my family always had a cooler stocked with extra can goods and water, candles and hurricane lamps close at hand, and $200 in cash stashed in a sock drawer.
So when Winter Storm Leon hit the southern states, my husband and I had a plan. We usually have a plan when we know inclement weather is on its way. It’s second nature to us, as we didn’t want to be stuck at home without supplies for two or three days. But this plan had to do with being out on the road, the one thing I think folks forget about within their emergency preparedness kit. Even if we have all our food, candles, and extra water all set at home, what happens when disaster strikes and we’re at work or school? A travel/traffic plan is just as important.
On the 28th, school had not been cancelled, much to my dismay. Not that I didn’t want to go to work or wanted my child to miss school— but I knew from experience what would happen if the snow fell— we’d never be able to get home. Not because of crazy snow drifts or freezing weather— but because of the traffic.
When you live on a small island with roughly a million people and everyone has their own car and refuses to carpool and public transit is not really an option— you understand traffic. Honolulu has some of the worst traffic in the United States. Not kidding. We beat Los Angeles in 2012, and in 2013 we slipped back to #2. Which is not anything we cheered about, mind you. It’s not an honor we island folk care to celebrate. My 21 mile commute to work took me about 2 hours to 2.5 hours DAILY. I spent a lot of time in my car. It’s the one thing I do not miss about living in Hawai’i.
The day Leon was to arrive— the Weather Channel thought snow would start to fall between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m., so I had my husband drive me and my son to school, and arranged to call him to pick us up. If the snow came and went, no problem, he’d pick us up after school. If the snow fell and decided to stick around, he’d come whenever I called. Luckily, we live about a mile from the school (I teach at my son’s middle school) and the commute is a blissfully short five minutes. Don’t hate me— I have wasted enough of my life sitting in traffic.
By the time the kids were dismissed from school, the roads were already packed. And southern drivers who are understandably not used to driving in snow and ice, started spinning out and getting into accidents. I called my husband and he came to get us. Our typically five minute drive home was long and slow and we passed several accidents and more than a dozen stalled/abandoned cars. Most not even pushed off to the side, they were parked where they stopped— sideways, facing backward, blocking half of the road. We finally made it to the main highway after taking a short cut through a business and our church, and got home after 90 minutes of creeping and dodging cars.
It was nerve-racking and telling as to what lay ahead for most of my townspeople. And the maddening point— it’s not their fault. They were reacting to what was set out for them and they were just trying to get to their kids and get home safely. Isn’t that what every parent wants during a time of crisis?
So I was thankful my husband and I had a plan, a pantry full of food, and a stocked freezer. We didn’t ever lose power, but we found the candles and cooked a few meals that would keep, just in case. Cellular service was sketchy, so we used our landline to call friends and reassure family. We filled a tub with water in the event we lost water service. We made sure the fireplace was ready to go if the heat went out. The only thing we didn’t have was a propane stove and a good first aid kit. Something to definitely put on the list to prepare for the next possible snow fall. Or tornado. Or hurricane. Or zombie uprising.
But one thing is for sure, even thought the dead did not rise, we were prepared to deal with what happened. And as a family we were together which was not the case for so many others. So have a plan folks, a traffic plan, a where to meet if separated plan, and a back-up plan in case all else fails. Make sure you check out the many emergency preparedness kits and lists of what to do posted by the CDC. It may seem a bit scary to prepare for the events they mention— but they are right— if you prepare for a zombie apocalypse, you are prepared for Everything. I have a few things to add to my list to help me prepare, like getting a crossbow and learning how to swing a samurai sword. I suppose I’d like to be prepared for anything.