LIFE IN NEW JERSEY: Coming from Australia, I have always looked forward to winter in New Jersey because the thought of snow was a huge novelty. The famous little jingle, ’let it snow, let it snow, let it snow’ starts to ring in my head as soon as the weather gets really cold in November.
Winter however, can be a big pain in the rear. Enough to make the locals here HATE this season.
There’s some very trying issues we have to contend with day in, day out in winter: chaffed lips, dry skin, fly-away hair in the low humidity and my personal favourite: the daily agony of static shocks.
But none of these dreadful problems are the real reason everyone in New Jersey hates winter.
Because none of these even compare to the unforgiveable inconveniences of snow. You heard me right: S.N.O.W. The acronym people here use for the Sordid Nightmare Of Winter.
If you are an unsuspecting expat who like me has some pathetic fantasy about the magic of snow, then it’s time you know the truth. The real truth.
As we are about to move into our umpteenth incidence of snow this season, it’s time to strip away any naïve expat ideas you may have about the realities of snow in a New Jersey winter. This is a marathon post so don’t read any further if you can’t handle more talk of snow.
Here are the unpalatable facts:
1. Snow only looks beautiful for a short while.
As it gets driven over, mixed with salt and road dirt, it turns into horrible black muck that sits along the sides of roads looking very ugly. Worse, they scoop the excess of this stuff up and dump it in big piles in some poor innocent place like a park that’s now converted to the town snow dump.
2. Shoveling isn’t a novelty anymore
OK. I freely admit it, I always thought shoveling snow looked like such fun till I tried it. Wow, the back hurts after a very short while, and when the snow is weighty (lots of water or ice content in it), it’s a real bitch to shovel.
3. Driving while it’s snowing is frightening
When it snows, it’s simply horrible to drive in, as the snow turns into churned up mush and icy mud. Even when the roads are salted to help prevent freezing of snow into ice, you can slide going around corners, up and down hills and anytime you use your brakes. Sometimes you just can’t avoid it if you are caught out somewhere. Then it can be sheer terror if you have to travel down any slopes on the way home.
4. Snow turns to ice in a short time and is just as bad to drive in (without salt)
In the colder weather like this winter, any unplowed snow on the roads turns into ice very quickly. This year, there was a salt shortage and under budgeting for snow clearing. Many of the local roads remained incompletely plowed and unsalted after the snow fell. The road surfaces formed thick, hard icy cover, much like an ice-skating rink. This ice cover has taken weeks to melt in most cases, and some still exists over a month afterwards. Some roads were so thickly covered with packed ice and with no salt to be seen for miles, in desperation the township brought in a cold-planer (machines used to rip up bitumen for resurfacing), to remove the ice. It may have helped remove ice but also scarred the road surface, helping contribute to lots more potholes in the road post-snow.
5. Some people don’t clear the snow from their pathways
It is a legal requirement that people shovel snow off their sidewalks fairly promptly after it has stopped snowing so it’s still possible to walk on pavements instead of the road. It is also required that you keep all pavements salted to avoid refreezing and black ice, a much harder and perilous form of ice that comes from refreezing of melted snow. Like most things in life, nothing is certain. How and when people shovel their sidewalks from snow is as variable as the weather forecast. Some people do it well, others not at all, and many somewhere in between. One thing is sure though. As the number of snowfalls increases during the season, the community’s interest in clearing their sidewalks declines in proportion. Then it’s just like the roads: a compressed ice nightmare to walk on. Ice-skating without the skates.
6. Snow on corners doesn’t get shoveled so you have to climb over to cross the street
People who live on corners are unfortunate as they have two pathways to clear snow from: one at the front and one at the side of their house. Double the work. So you can understand why they get sick of it. The corners are also unfortunately where the snow plows seem to magically push more snow from the road than anywhere else. We all get hills of snow out front from the road plowing efforts. These hills turn into mountains when you add the cleared snow from the sidewalks.
Shoveling out a path at the roadside corner though is so much harder. There is more snow to dig out, and it’s all compacted because of the snow plows, so it’s very heavy. In the end, these corners often don’t get shoveled. To cross the road you have to climb over the snow or ice-a very slushy affair, or worse, a very slippery and dangerous task. This makes it almost impossible for any elderly people or those with any walking impediment to cross at the corner safely.
7. The kids are missing too much school with all the snow days
When it snows heavily, school is cancelled for the day. It’s called a ‘snow day’ and you can bet it’s every child’s wish come true. Our children have had seven snow days off school so far. Not only are they sitting around the house bored or playing video games too much, they are falling behind their school’s learning timetable. One or two days you would expect but seven?
8. Digging your street parked car out of the snow when the snow plough has buried it is no fun
It’s always best not to park your car on the street when it snows because the snow plows drive by and throw masses of snow to the side, over your car. Aside from impeding the snow plows, street parking risks damage to your car as well. In some towns, there is no off-street parking, so you have no choice but to leave it out the front. After heavy snow, it is any one’s best guess which white pile of snow contains your car underneath. It may take digging several exploration trenches on possible car sites before you find your own. Then it’s like digging up treasure, except a lot more exertive.
9. Snow and ice can be a problem when there’s a lot of it on your roof
Snow turning to ice makes it heavy. I’m sure you get that now. Having it on the roof isn’t always a problem until it all falls off in one go (usually on angled roofs) and you are standing underneath. Miraculously, that doesn’t seem to hurt anyone but scares the boo-boo out of you. Snow on the roof, on the other hand is dangerous and can cause a cave-in.
10. Icicles form as the snow melts-watch out when they fall
Most houses get icicles as roof snow melts. What may not be obvious is how extraordinary these can be both in size and appearance. Long, pointed ice knives hanging off the roof edges that fall off when they break. Just don’t look up as you walk under the eaves.
11. There is ‘black ice’ everywhere from snow melting and refreezing overnight
Melted snow that refreezes is called ‘black ice’. This would be a boring detail except black ice is incredibly hard, often impossible to see or can be mistaken for wet ground. Walking on black ice is a recipe for disaster, so you have to scan where you are walking very carefully.
12. There’s no room to park your car
With all the piled up snow, there’s precious little room to park your car on the side of the road, without it being an obstacle for passing traffic. Despite this, people still do park their cars and do impede the traffic. Sometimes there’s just no other option. In supermarket car parks, they push all the snow to one side, which is helpful but it reduces parking spaces and soon results in chaotic traffic on your shopping trip.
13. Potholes, potholes as far as the eye can see
Almost in front of your eyes, roads start to dissolve into masses of potholes. Some of these are incredibly deep, and a horror to drive over. One more fun obstacle to navigate. The damage from this year’s snow is so bad, there is state-wide ‘Pothole Repair Road Team’ working on all the major routes to fix this road nightmare. The potholes form as a direct result of the snow.
14. Dropping your children at school is an Olympic-level challenge
Aside from the fun of driving around while all this stuff is going on, you find a different problem when you drop the kids at school. The snow lined sidewalks form a continuing ice barrier a few feet high that no one can climb over easily when they dismount from the car. Fortunately our schools overcome this as best as possible by making periodic breaks in the ice for people to move from street to pavement.
However, if you don’t want your child climbing through slippery wet ice or walking in the traffic to reach one of these passageways, you have to draw up right next to one when you drop them off. Not an easy task when there are dozens of cars trying to drop their kids at the same time and only 3 or 4 breaks where you can drop them safely. Another recipe for traffic chaos.
15. Snow causes chaos on the roads and the traffic is nearly always appalling
While it’s snowing:
- There can be very poor visibility while driving and cars can run into big snow drifts that form on the roads, rendering their car damaged or unmovable.
- Your brakes may not work very well, so it’s often better not to drive too fast, so you don’t have to stop suddenly.
Even after the snow stops,
- There’s often no room for two cars to pass when cars are parked on snow laden streets so cars have to wait for their turn in single lane traffic.
- Lanes are closed or only partially open due to snow not cleared to the side adequately. This instantly reduces traffic flow and causes big bottlenecks.
- Whether it’s ice patches, snow slush or potholes to avoid, the traffic has to slow down to navigate the dangers safely.
16. Snow days for workers mean days away from the office and a backlog of work
Many offices close on snow days as well as schools. While people work from home, most will take time out to shovel snow or attend to their property. Many people are set up to work from home in some way but time is still lost, emails backed up and meetings postponed. Sick days are not the only problem impacting work productivity in winter.
17. There is salt all over your car (and everywhere else)
Businesses, schools, governments and homes all use salt on pavements driveways and roads, to diminish the impact of snow. It’s everywhere. Unsurprisingly, salt gets trodden into your car, into your house and stains pavements. Cars have a dirty white powder over them constantly due to salt residue. Your car looking dirty is one thing but salt is not too good for your car either.
18. Snow is messy, dirty and the ground is perpetually wet when it all melts again
No matter how much you love snow, there’s no denying it is a messy business. Snow walked into the house melts and leaves puddles, and with it dirt that is tracked in too. With snow and salt outside everywhere, it is near impossible to avoid constantly dirty, gritty and slippery floors. My car floor suffers more though. Getting in and out of the car into snow, leaves a pool of muddy water in the area where I drive. When the snow melts, there is now constantly wet ground that is much like constant rain, and the dirt this brings.
19. Snow and ice can cause knocked down power lines and cause electricity outages.
When the snow turns to ice or if the snowstorm has an ice pellet component, then power lines can get weighed down. The main damage comes from falling trees that buckle under their heavy covering or in windy conditions, bringing down power lines as well. Winter temperatures with no heat makes for very unhappy people in most cases, and is dangerous for many of the elderly.
20. Deliveries, events and vital services get delayed
The weather can play havoc with many key things, including deliveries and event planning. Although most people would prefer not to be out in snow weather anyway, it puts plans and services on hold. Our garbage service has been delayed so many times this month because of snow storms that our house started to look like we spring cleaned and half our goods were getting tossed. Easily fixed but unsightly and unhygienic.
Winter is always a time people here get sick of the weather but this year with unrelenting cold and record-setting snow levels, the community is holding its breath for a change in season. The Huffington Post summed it up well with their article:
OK. So now you novice expats know about snow.
You can empathize with your fellow Americans about how awful winter is and pray for Spring to get here fast. Or you can keep on being secretly thrilled with novelty of snow while it lasts. Let it snow I say.