Philadelphia Is Full of Winter Weather Wimps

Fact: It snows in Philly. So why do we act like we've never seen snow every time it snows?

Photo | Matt Rourke, AP

Photo | Matt Rourke, AP

There is a scene in The Ten Commandments in which Anne Baxter’s scheming Nefretiri slinks around Yul Brynner’s Rameses II and ridicules him for letting the Israelites — and her beloved Moses — leave Egypt.

“Do you hear laughter, Pharaoh?” she hisses. “Not the laughter of kings, but the laughter of slaves on the desert.”

After Tuesday’s small burst of powdery precipitation and the region’s accompanying hysteria, a similar tableau could have unfolded in many area homes, as local denizens trembled under a two-inch swaddle of snow.

“Do you hear laughter, Philadelphia? Not the laughter of major cities, but the laughter of Buffalo, Milwaukee and Providence.”

Once again, our region was laid low by a minor snow “event,” the kind which comes standard in cities where winter is overcome, not feared. Snow days don’t exist in places like Chicago, because the city and the people know how to deal with winter’s worst. The best we can say about the preparation for bad weather around here is that should we get hit by four to six inches of snow, everybody will be able to make French toast, thanks to emergency milk-butter-and-eggs runs to the Giant that are as predictable as they are comical.

There’s no simpler way to put it, Philadelphia: We are wimps when it comes to snow. There’s no denying local television’s Hysterical Weather Machine is partly to blame for our lack of fortitude. It has conditioned us to believe that any snowfall — even a couple inches — is a big story. Stations profit from our fear by providing dire reports when a couple inches of frosty fluff flutter to earth. They dispatch reporters to remote outposts, the better to increase the drama. “There are flurries in Allentown. We’ll have team coverage beginning at 3 a.m.”

It’s not all the HWM’s fault. We are unwilling to accept that we live in a part of the country that gets cold. When it gets cold, it snows. Lifelong Philadelphia residents have lived through the Blizzard of 1996. They remember the double 20-inchers in the winter of 2010-11. And the 21 inches in 1983. Why, then, would a couple of inches of snow be so paralyzing? We should scoff at such a nuisance, not surrender to it.

Could it be that we aren’t as tough as we think we are? That for all the puffed chests and cheesesteak rhetoric, we can be cowed by a light snowfall? I’m not talking about the 16 inches of cement that fell on us last week, or the icy mayhem that knocked out power throughout the region earlier this month. Those were calamitous incidents.

I’m more interested in our terrified behavior when less than a half-foot of snow covers the region. At the first flake’s fall, we turn into South Carolinians, completely flummoxed by the circumstances. Local drivers are bad enough in dry conditions (that’s a topic for another time), but when the roads are coated with snow, they become dangerously inept. Maintain a steady speed, folks. Pay attention to what’s happening ahead. Put down the damn phones — or at least go hands-free.

And how about some preparation? I’m not referring to a run on the grocery store. Get up a little earlier. Leave some extra time. Philadelphia winters have featured snow forever, and yet these “tips” still must be repeated. Winter weather is common in these parts. It would be nice if the people who lived here acted like it.

That way, we won’t have to hear cackling from Fargo.