D.C. Snow Panic
The picture on the right is from the front of the Washington Post‘s website, depicting the first snow of the season. The forecasts had called for 2-6 inches of the white stuff in the area but we fell somewhat short of that.
The amount of sheer panic that goes on here when there’s snow continues to baffle me–and I say that as someone who has lived most of his life in the South. While I always thought of D.C. as Northern, which it is in many ways culturally, weatherwise it is very much Southern. Despite the fact that this is mostly a region of transplants, people don’t know how to drive in snow and ice and major snowstorms are sufficiently rare that the infrastructure for snow removal is inadequate for those times when we get more than a couple of inches.
This related story, on page C1, is rather amusing:
Let’s put this whole milk-bread-and-toilet-paper myth to rest right here, right now. You, sitting there all comfy and warm awaiting the first blanket of white, know exactly what we’re talking about. Since time and TV weather forecasts began, milk, bread and toilet paper — MBTP — have been the media stars of every snowstorm, cliches wrapped in plastic. Milk certainly qualifies. And bread, too. But toilet paper? Toilet paper doesn’t really belong in the holy grocerial trinity of every snow panic.
MBTP are supposedly what everyone runs to the store for at the first sign of a flake or flurry. More than staple commodities, they are the supposed bench marks of the region’s ability to “cope” with a few inches of snow. Look! gawp the TV weather people, zooming in on denuded supermarket shelves, as if a Dupont Circle supermarket had suddenly turned into a Soviet supply depot. It’s not really snowing until someone reports a run on MBTP.
Only it might be a bit of an urban myth. Yesterday, after predictions of the season’s first good storm, spokesmen for the Safeway and Giant grocery store chains said they saw plenty of evidence of hoarding and panic buying — but no straight-to-the-top-of-the-sales-chart relationship among milk, bread and toilet paper. Compared with a snowless Dec. 5 a year ago, milk and bread sales roughly doubled Monday at Safeway’s 100 stores throughout the mid-Atlantic region, spokesman Greg Ten Eyck said. Those two products were among the chain’s best sellers, he said. Then again, so were bacon, scrapple and eggs (“People are planning big breakfasts after the snow,” he said), along with fruit, water, soda, infant formula, Kool-Aid and boneless chicken breasts. And toilet paper? Ten Eyck checked with his company’s sales department. “Toilet paper wasn’t in the top 50 products” sold, he said. Giant spokesman Barry Scher, too, said there was nothing special about his company’s MBTP index. Everything was moving briskly, he said: bread, eggs, canned goods, luncheon meats, batteries, even — go figure — ice cream.
Even in places that get plenty of snow, there’s nothing really noteworthy about toilet-paper sales. In such frosty Midwestern and Western states as Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico and Colorado, the big sellers are bread, milk, kitty litter, batteries and shovels, said Jeff Stroh, a spokesman for the Safeway division that represents that region. “Everyone can agree on bread and milk,” he said, but beyond that “we don’t have a top-three or -four list.”
Stroh said there’s a good reason why people don’t necessarily need to hoard toilet paper before a storm — because it’s usually in abundant supply around the home. Think about it, he said: You run out of a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread fairly quickly, and need to resupply at regular intervals. But toilet paper comes in humongous packages: 12-roll packs, 24-roll sizes, 48-roll monsters that could withstand a blizzard of gastrointestinal distress.
So, there you have it.