Personal Finance 

5 Lessons from the DC/Baltimore Snowpocalypse

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Not sure if you heard about the snow in the Baltimore/DC area but we got a slammed with over 40 inches of snow on two different occasions over the course of a week. Schools were closed for the entire week, mail service was spotty, and the area came to a grinding halt for about a week. Grocery store shelves were bare even before the initial snowfall and stayed that way for about a week!

For those keeping score at home, we had about 30″ of snow come down February 5th-6th and then another heavy dose (8-10″) mid-week last week. It was hard for us to measure the exact amount of the mid-week snow because the wind was absolutely ferocious.

However, we escaped unscathed and we learned a little bit in the process.

Mother Nature Creates Emergencies

When it comes to our “jobs,” both my wife and I are very fortunate. I work from home and she’s a student. With the heavy snow, we were lucky because we didn’t have to choose between personal safety or income. For many, there is no choice when it comes to go to work. You either brave the treacherous weather and make it to work or you don’t get paid (or worse, you’re fired… though I doubt any employers would risk the legal implications of doing that!).

This underscores the importance of having an emergency fund because the heavy snow was an emergency. It’s a lot easier to choose to lose a day’s pay when you can lean on your emergency fund to bridge the gap (this decision is a little easier if you have kids and their schools are closed).

Besides deciding whether to venture into work, winter storms can cause damage to your house and car. Falling trees and branches can fall on cars and houses, breaking windows or causing some other damage. Heavy snow can bring down roofs, freezing ice can cause cracking in flashing on your roof and leak into your house… the list goes on and on.

Keep Your Pantry Well-Stocked

Let me show you some insane pictures of the local Giant Foods when we visited last Tuesday (between the major 30″+ snowfall and before the second drubbing):

All Produce GONE Massive Lines at Checkout

When we visited the Thursday before the storm, it was already very slim pickings. There was absolutely no meat left in the entire store except for a few smoked hams and some sausages (we bought a package of those), the milk was all gone, the fresh produce was all gone except for a few badly bruised apples, and most of the shelves were down to their last bits. You need to always keep your pantry as well-stocked as possible and we were fortunate to be that way accidentally.

Be A Good Neighbor

We live in a community of townhomes, so we’re always in close proximity to our neighbors. We’re good friends with the neighbors within a few homes from ours (one our neighbors just joined our bowling league and it’s been a blast) and less familiar with the ones outside our immediate vicinity. However, whenever there’s a big snowstorm, we’re almost all out there pitching in and digging each others’ cars out from the snow. When you’re out there, help each other out. Sometimes you scratch their backs and sometimes they’ll scratch yours… it makes for a better community.

One of the common non-financial arguments for buying a home is a sense of community and it’s very clear, especially when you’re clearing off snow, who is a renter and who is an owner. It’s not universal but most of the people sitting inside while the neighborhood is collectively digging out are renters, they have less of a vested interest in building relationships with their neighbors because their neighbors will change in a year or two.

Have a Contingency Plan

What are you going to do if you lose electricity or running water? Winter storms can down trees and branches, both of which can easily rip down power lines. If you have in-ground electrical wires, you’re still not safe because not every wire between you and the power plant is going to be underground too!

We didn’t have a contingency plan (fortunately we didn’t lose power) but it’s always good to learn from your mistakes, even if they didn’t hurt you. In hindsight, we would’ve been able to cook our food on our propane grill and use our fireplace as a source of heat. We don’t have enough wood to last more than a few days (burning only for a few hours when the sun goes down) but we will work stockpiling some more firewood as our contingency plan.

Routine Maintenance Works Better

During the first storm, I think I went outside every few hours to shovel our path and clear the snow from around our cars. Earlier in the day, the wind wasn’t as bad and the snow wasn’t heavy, so clearing it out was easy. As the storm progressed, the wind was stronger and the snow was wetter, so it became a lot harder. However, by clearing away the snow on a regular basis, we were able to keep up with it. Regular maintenance, whether it’s on your car or on Mother Nature, is always better than dealing with it all at the end.

Those were just a few of the lessons of the snowpocalypse… and I leave you with this last image of the patio behind our townhouse:
DC Baltimore Snowpocalypse

(by the way, that’s a six foot fence behind that mound of snow)

{ 28 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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28 Responses to “5 Lessons from the DC/Baltimore Snowpocalypse”

  1. ziglet19 says:

    Wow, I am surprised by the pictures of the grocery store. I do always try to keep my food pantry well stocked, but I don’t always have extra propane to cook it with on the grill. Great article.

  2. Ryan says:

    If you live in Florida (as I have most of my life) most people have emergency stash for hurricane season. The problem with hurricane season, as opposed to blizzards, is that it’s not as easy to cool down when your power goes out, as it is to warm up (fireplace) when it gets cold.

    • Scott says:

      The other problem with hurricanes coming during the warm season is that you need ice to keep your perishables cold whereas you can just throw them outside when it’s cold and snowing. Ice is a major commodity when a hurricane hits.

  3. cubiclegeoff says:

    Constant shoveling during a big storm is key… everything in moderation is generally better.

    Out townhouse complex pays for people to come and dig out our cars and walkways, so unfortunately we don’t have any neighborly-ness that you have. since most of the units are owned by older individuals, I don’t see this changing, even though the cost is ridiculous.

  4. DJ Wetzel says:

    My grandparents live in Westminster, Maryland on top of a large hill and they were unable to get mail service or get out for the entire week. Crazy weather!

  5. Cole Brodine says:

    I live in Nebraska where this weather is much more common (at least I’m assuming it is by the reaction on the internet for the people in this area). We typically have at least one or maybe two snow storms like this in a given winter. Also, being on the high plains means lots of wind and drifting.

    I think it’s interesting that an employer would force an employee to take a day without pay. A lot of employers here will actually call off work since people can’t make it in. Some give you a paid day off and a few make you use your vacation or sick leave.

    I work for the power company so I never get the day off for weather. When the weather gets bad, I really need to be at work to help restore power to customers who rely on us for heat.

    When you live in an area that is used to snow fall you have a lot of people that own snowblowers. I would like to get a snow blower at the end of the winter (for next winter) so that I can help dig out my neighbors more easily.

    I think people here do a better job of stocking up during the winter, since we are used to the storms. You still see quite a crowd when a storm is coming, but nothing like your pictures! This is when that canning and buying a whole or half beef and freezing it comes in handy.

    • Martha says:

      I wonder if you could find snowblowers on Ebay come summertime for cheap… 🙂

      • Soccer9040 says:

        …summer, I bet they are already posted on eBay and Craigslist. Last year we had a few days with out power so everyone rushed out and bought a generator. A few weeks later the local market for generators on craigslist was flooded. I bet you could pick one up for 50% off what it would cost in the store.

  6. Mark says:

    I live in San Diego, and a few years back learned how ill prepared I was for the wild fires that swept the area. This is different than the shut-in that the snow caused and is more for a evacuation emergency. Lesson 1 was keep and maintain a ‘bug-out’ bag. Get a duffel and fill it full of things you need to survive for a few days away from the home and that are not needed on a day to day basis (pet supplies, essential meds, clothes, maps, about $100 in cash, camping food etc). Next keep a list of things to grab with the bag and another empty bag, things you use day to day (i.e. cell phone charger) and things you dont want to lose (photo albums, back up USB drives). It seems excessive for something you hopefully never have to do, but the piece of mind is well worth it.

  7. zapeta says:

    I think the big lesson is to be prepared for all kinds of emergencies. We keep our pantry stocked and we have gas appliances and a fireplace so we can cook and keep warm if the power goes out.

  8. Jin6655321 says:

    I live in the DC Metro area and so yeah, it sucked. Speaking of always being prepared and maintaining routine maintenance… A week or so I took my car in for state inspection. My mechanic told me that my tires barely passed and recommended getting new tires. Needless to say, it was quite expensive so I almost said no, but I am so glad I didn’t. I can’t imagine driving in that snow with thread bare tires! There’s a pretty good chance I would’ve gotten into an accident and that would’ve been far more costly.

  9. Wow, that grocery store picture is incredible! Nothing very good neighborly about stripping the shelves! Luckily my shelves normally contain lots of dried legumes and grains and my chickens are always laying. I never lost my power and coming near to running out of toilet paper was my biggest concern here in Virginia.

    I have a sister in Frederick who reported 51″ of snow last week. Their biggest issue was parking on their snow-laden street and running out of fresh produce.

    I’m heading up there Wednesday. Reports are that the major streets are clear and things are moving again. I’d say we all weathered the storm pretty well, in spite of being mocked by more northerly climes!

  10. Great suggestions. I live in Maryland and this storm was crazy. I went to Trader Joes immediately before the storm…bad idea. There was nothing on the shelves and there were tons of people out. My work also gave us no days off for the storm, so I was formed to take my own person time off. Sucks, but I would rather be safe than get in an accident just to make it into work.

  11. Shirley says:

    The pictures and comments have given me a renewed (and much needed) appreciation for living in California in a valley where a couple of rough rainstorms each year are the worst of our weather. If our electricity were to go out, we couldn’t cook. Time to buy a manual can opener.

    • Scott says:

      The worst of your California weather is drought, no?

      • Although they aren’t technical “weather”, those earthquake thingies can be a bit nasty, or so I’ve heard 🙂

        • Shirley says:

          Ah yes, those earthquakes. We do have our share of those… not many serious ones, but they are still scary for the few seconds or so that they last. I guess we just get used to them and don’t worry much, until the ‘big one’ comes anyway. 🙂

      • Shirley says:

        Yes… we have had dought conditions for the last few years but where we live it has only been enough to curtail watering the lawn during afternoon hours. I agree, much of the state is in dire straits, especially the farmers.

  12. The power lines in our neighborhood are buried, making our power losses less frequent. We still CAN lose power, but only if a main line goes down. And since those are high priority and get fixed very quickly, this rarely happens.

    Around here (midwest) people will raid the grocery stores in anticipation of a 6-8 inch snowfall – as if that’s going to shut down the city for a month. (sigh)

    My employer is perfectly fine with having me work from home in inclement weather. As long as my laptop has power and the broadband is up, I’m good to go.

  13. jsbrendog says:

    “Regular maintenance, whether it’s on your car or on Mother Nature, is always better than dealing with it all at the end.”

    Just wanted to say that again for emphasis.

    • echidnina says:

      Ab-so-lutely. We didn’t get hit with quite as much snow here, but I shoveled my walk several times over the course of the day and got to point and laugh at my neighbors who had to shovel a foot and a half the next day 😉

      And of course it also applies to nearly everything in life.

    • Soccer9040 says:

      and tow rope. Everyone should have one when driving around in snow. I was amazed at how many people got stuck in a ditch or just in the street. No one every has a tow rope so I always find myself using mine. I gave my wife one for Christmas (as a joke, she just got a new car and I would have gotten one for her anyways) she laughed at me, until one afternoon she finds herself stuck. After a nice guy with a truck saw her with the tow rope in hand he pulled her out and everyone was on their merry way. Anyways, she said she was sorry for laughing and now wants a 2nd one….just in case.

  14. Josh says:

    Good advice to go along with this…don’t try to buy your snow shovel once the weather hits… 🙂

  15. eric says:

    Crazy stuff! I can’t imagine seeing all that snow.

    • Jim says:

      Me neither.. and then I did and it was exhausting. 🙂

      • Soccer9040 says:

        Great snow pics! I’m all about shoveling to keep up as the snow falls. I didn’t realize this, but their are different kinds of snow shovels for different kinds of snow. I have two different ones. The 1st is a wide plastic shovel with no metal tip. This is used for pushing snow out of the way. The 2nd is a bent handle snow throwing shovel. Its about half as wide as my snow pusher, but has a deeper bucket, but the bent handle makes it easier to lift and throw snow into piles. It really saved my back when moving the 20″ piles of snow.

  16. daenyll says:

    finds it amazing that people who have lived up north with snow their whole lives can still forget how to drive and panic the first snowfall of the year. It makes more sense for those that live in states that rarely get snow. But I’m from N. Indiana up with the lake effect off of Lake Michigan and still it seems that every year there are those people who freak out when the weather turns. Let alone what happens in an actual storm.

  17. aua868s says:

    a lesson from living in the east coast….move to the west coast..hah

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