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5 Lessons from the DC/Baltimore Snowpocalypse

Posted By Jim On 02/15/2010 @ 12:43 pm In Personal Finance | 28 Comments

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 [3], 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):


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:

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


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[3] bring down roofs: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/metro/area-roof-collapses/index.html

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