Weather below the Mason-Dixon line

Saturday, December 16th, 2017 at 7:54 am

Once upon a time, when I lived in Lincoln Nebraska, I decided to take up worm composting. I started calling around to all the local bait shops, hoping to find some red wrigglers – the best of composting worms.

I was met with rejection after rejection. “No, we haven’t got any of those.” “Sorry.” “What about…”

Finally, a shopkeeper who I now remember to have a Southern drawl (whether it existed then or not is anybody’s guess) explained: “Ah, ma’am, you can’t find any of those this time of year north of the Mason-Dixon line.”

I thanked him warmly and ordered my worms online from a warmer climate. And from that moment on, the Mason-Dixon line was forever burned into my consciousness as “where they don’t have winter.”

Years later, I moved to Wichita Kansas. It’s still on the plains, shares many similarities with the place of my birth. But the climate is nothing like Lincoln’s. Winter weather here is like those memes about Southern people, emptying the grocery stores whenever more than an inch of snow is forecast. (True Story.)

I was completely baffled by it, totally caught off guard. I’m used to Plains-folk (Midwestern, we sometimes call ourselves, likely to the chagrin of those blizzard-surviving Wisconsin-ites) being tougher than that.

And then, one day, for whatever reason, I was looking up Wichita’s exact location. Latitude 37.68 N. My aha moment had come. Wichita was south of the Mason-Dixon line (39.43 N)

I announced this happily to my husband, thrilled that I had finally found an answer to my “why are Wichitans such wimps?” He, not having had my experience with the red wrigglers (and the corresponding association of “south of the Mason-Dixon line” with “no winter”), was less than impressed.

But it was a groundbreaking discovery for me, and one I think of whenever “winter weather” is predicted for Wichita. I laugh a little internally and roll my eyes: “Southerners”, I think.

To all of you real Southerners out there – and, yes, even to my Wichitan friends – please understand that I mean no slight by this. The reality is that the infrequency of “winter weather” in the south makes it much more likely to be dangerous in smaller quantities. Roads aren’t prepared for it, municipalities cannot justify the purchase of equipment to deal with it, drivers don’t have experience driving in it. Further south than us, homes may not be well equipped for cold snaps. While I might still feel like your reaction to snow is a bit of an overreaction, it’s not unreasonable. But it took the “Mason-Dixon line” for me to realize that Wichitans are not just a wimpy version of Plains-folks but a product of their environment, here where the Plains meets the South (at least insofar as weather is concerned).

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