South Dakota, you know how to handle winter

By Gray Hughes


The holidays are over, and now we are left with the cold, harsh reality that is winter.

Winter was one of my favorite seasons when I lived in a warmer climate, but here, I am forced to reckon with the harsh realities of living in a cold, snowy environment.

When I lived in Maryland, I used to love the snow, especially as a kid. Snow meant no school, hot chocolate and sledding. Maybe my parents would take off work and take me and a friend or two skiing in Pennsylvania.

But my stepdad, who is from Minnesota, said something to me as a kid that I now accept as truth—snow is great in places where we go skiing, but when you have to deal with it day-in and day-out, it’s not as fun.

That storm that hit us on Dec. 30-31? That dropped more snow that I am used to in an entire year. In Maryland and Philadelphia, we would have been hit with a state of emergency. School would have been closed for days, if not a week or more. There would have been travel bans for people except emergency personnel.

Here, though, it was just like any other day. I woke up earlier, left for work half an hour before I normally do, drove slower on the snowy roads and, for the most part, carried on as if nothing was different because, other than snow and wind, there was nothing different.

And drivers here know how to drive in the snow.

Back home in Maryland and Philadelphia, there would have been accidents and cars would have been in ditches. There, they don’t deal with snow on a regular basis like we do, so no one knows how to act when it does snow.

I learned how to drive in the snow only because one time when I was in college, my girlfriend, who like I have said before is from Vermont, and, therefore, knows how to drive in the snow, and I were driving back from Philadelphia to our college an hour-and-a-half away in the middle of a winter storm. She made me drive the whole way home so in the event we wind up visiting or moving to a place where it snows I would know what to do.

Back home, the grocery stores would have been desolate. There would be no bread, no milk and no eggs (apparently, back home people like to make French toast when it snows).

Power would be off for days in some cases. There was one time when my friend and I were snowed in at my house, and the power was down for several days. My mom, who is a doctor, couldn’t leave the hospital, and my sister and stepdad were out of town.

We had to split wood to heat the house pretty much all day. For a bunch of 16 year olds who didn’t have much experience outside except for what we learned as Boy Scouts (my friend stuck with it significantly longer than I did, though, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout), it was as close to living in the pioneer days as we could get. We had competitions to see who could chop the most wood in an hour. (My friend, who was significantly bigger and stronger than I was, always won.)

As a bunch of teenagers who couldn’t cook to save our lives, the only people who were out in that storm were the delivery people we ordered from. (Who am I kidding, I still can’t cook except for grilling.)

Here, though, when a foot plus of snow is dropped, nothing changes.

And let me tell you about the cold.

When we were having lows in the single digits, nothing here changed except people put on a warmer coat, hat and gloves.

Back home, there would have been a state of emergency again. There would be indoor recess for kids in school until the thermostat got back into the 40 degree ranges as a low.

I would be bundled up in multiple coats, a scarf, hat, gloves and I probably would be wearing long john pants underneath my work khakis — and that would be if the high were in the 30s.

Now that I am here, though, I just throw on a warmer coat, wear my insulated boots and put on a hat and a light pair of gloves — and that’s for days when the high is in the teens.

The winter here is no big deal. To coopt a phrase from World War II in Britain, people keep calm and carry on, while back home, people lose their minds and freak out.

Even though I may poo-poo the cold and the snow here, I still like winter.

It means skiing, reading Robert Frost by a fire and long, cozy nights tucked into a bed with flannel sheets.

As someone from the Mid-Atlantic, though, who is still adjusting to actual winter, let’s try to keep the blizzards and negative degree-days to a minimum.


  1. Unquestionably beelieve that which yyou said. Your favorite reason seemed to be on the net the simplest thing
    to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed while
    people think about worries that they plainly don’t know about.
    You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thimg ithout having side-effects , people could take a signal.

    Will likely be back to get more. Thanks