Winter Storm Jonas: How the South does snow


Paul Townsend/Flickr

Aaron Menconi
    Staff Writer

It seems like all it takes is a forecast of the smallest snow flurry to induce bread rapture. Even a rumor of flakes flying is enough to get people flocking to grocery stores for milk, bread and eggs.

Being stoked by social media buzz about impending inclement weather might build the apprehension about going anywhere near a store, fearful of a scene along the likes of Black Friday chaos: whole chickens being torn apart in tugs-of-war, cracked eggs littered across floors and mothers gleefully skipping to the register with one of the few remaining 12-packs of toilet paper.

Thankfully, however, the evening before Winter Storm Jonas arrived in Greensboro saw far less apocalyptic pandemonium than all that. Yes, the checkout lines were super-long, but everyone at least seemed able to maintain at least the illusion of orderliness; to the point where it really did seem like just another busy night at the grocery store.

Milk, bread and eggs were indeed scarce to the point of being nearly gone on the shelves, but they weren’t the only items disappearing. It all depended on where you were shopping.

In contrast to the Food Lion on Lawndale north of campus — which was running low on diapers and nose tissues — the Coliseum Drive Food Lion near campus was pretty picked over when it came to ramen, beer and potato chips.

Part of that seems like practical demographics of who is shopping where, but there are psychological reasons for why people stock up on junk food when heavy weather is approaching.

“Basically, your ability to resist temptations is reduced,” said Ravi Dhar, director of Yale University’s Center for Customer Insights, to the Washington Post. “Mental stress can have an effect on the type of food you choose.”

But even the stores doing big junk-food business were low on milk and bread, too. What is it about bad weather that drives so many people to stores to stock up on perishables? A craving for French toast?

According to an article on, the tradition began in New England in the latter part of the 1970s, when two landmark storms rolled in and devastated the area.

One of the most commonly cited storms beginning the trend of grocery store stock-piling was the Blizzard of ’78, which dropped more than two feet of snow on parts of New England in February of that year. It took the region by surprise when forecasts predicting a snowy morning proved to be inaccurate.

Lulled into a false sense of security and skeptical of the forecasts altogether, most people went to work and school as usual. When the storm did hit later that day, many found themselves trapped on roads and at work trying to get home; some didn’t make it for days.

There was also 1976’s Hurricane Belle, which bounced her way up the East Coast before making landfall on Long Island, New York. Many in that storm lost power and many more remained trapped in their homes, waiting for floodwaters to drain.

Both times, people wound up trapped in their homes without enough food. In years following, weather services emphasized that people should prepare by buying basic necessities (including bread and milk) before storms hit.

  In the four decades since Belle and the Blizzard of ’78, weather-forecasting technology has advanced significantly. Throw in a 24-hour cable-news cycle and social media to spread the word about inclement weather far and wide, and it’s hardly surprising that stormy forecasts freak people out and make them start hoarding staples, junk food and alcohol.

From a psychological standpoint, it’s an impulse that’s about control.

“The thought to get milk before a storm is followed by the action of compulsion to go out and stockpile it,” said Lisa Brateman, a New York City based psychotherapist. “In one way or another we spend a lot of time and energy trying to feel in control, and buying things you might throw out still gives the person a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation.”

The forecast may say only a day or two of slushy roads, but even that may be challenging to the way someone feels “in control.” Similar to the innate desire for control, psychologist Judy Rosenberg says it’s people wanting to keep at a routine that sends them buying milk and bread.

“We all like the feeling of normal routine,” Rosenberg said. “Buying perishables and doing the ‘normal routine’ makes us feel safe and comfortable, even though circumstances are dangerous.”

Buying milk and bread may seem like an unorthodox way of feeling secure and in control, but it’s the ‘business as usual’ storm-preparation activity today, no matter what’s going on, that keeps people’s’ hopes up that everything will be okay tomorrow. And more often than not, they are.

Categories: Features, Human Interest, Uncategorized

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