I grew up in Maine, the northernmost state on the east coast of the United States. Maine is beautiful…beautiful if you like winter for 6 months of the year. Snow can begin in early November and last through March or early April. This means Mainers move a lot snow. Between 50 and 100 inches per year to be exact. The annual snowfall varies depending on the region. The coastal areas are lower and manageable but the northern and interior regions are buried for 6 months of the year.
Growing up in Maine sometimes leaves you with a love of flannel, camouflage everything, stockpiling and L.L Bean boots but it always leaves with you with the ability to plow through snow (pun intended). While I lived in Ireland for 10 years I couldn’t help but notice the kafuffle caused by ice every winter.
Yes, we have the cars, clothes and equipment for it but here are a few transferrable skills from a Mainer to help the Irish deal with ice and snow that is upon Ireland now.
Also, please stop posting pictures while driving over the Connors Pass in a blizzard. Just stop driving over the Connors Pass in a blizzard.
Black Ice is Not Everywhere
Yes, the roads are plowed here and we have private and public plow crews working through the night (most people pay for the plows to clear their rural roads and driveways) but Maine is the size of Ireland and it’s impossible to keep the roads clear when the snow is falling fast. Unless it’s a big storm, life goes on so you are expected to get to work and school. This means lots of driving on slippery roads in bad visibility.
I’m not sure where Kerry drivers got the idea that black ice was lurking around every corner ready to jump out and attack them but it seemed to be a very common fear. You will be fine if you go slow enough. The trick to driving in snow and ice is not a trick at all. Go slow enough to ensure that you don’t need your brakes to slow down.
You will inevitably skid and slip in snow and ice but if you are going slow enough, you can correct or ride it out without slamming on the brakes and turning into a spin and careening into another car or off the road. That being said, you can’t control other speed demons who are going to smash into you so if you are very nervous only drive in emergencies.
The Cold Kills
Americans wear ugly and practical clothes like our famous clunky white sneakers. Mainers dress worse than the average American. Carhartts, a flannel shirt and a down vest passes for a tuxedo here. There’s an old joke that goes “What’s the difference between a Maine black bear and a Maine women?” “A flannel shirt.”
The Mainer in me was baffled by the lack of appropriate outerwear in Ireland. How do you not even wear rain coats? I would shudder at the sight of drenched young women running around in high-heels and cotton fashion jackets riding up their backs and exposing wet skin.
Extreme and prolonged cold is no joke and it kills hundreds of elderly people in the U.S. each year. Get prepared and cover your ears, head, fingers and toes.
Fuel poverty is also a serious issue here and if you run out of oil, things can get seriously dangerous fast so if you know someone at risk, take them to your house before a storm or ensure they have enough fuel to last for days.
Falling is another cause of broken bones all winter so make sure elderly neighbors and families don’t have to go out for fuel or food and that you clear roads, steps and walkways for them. Sand and grit is often available for free from councils (or at the beach) and all you need is a bucketful to keep around.
Stop Waiting for the Council My son was born in December of 2009 in the middle of a cold icy snap in Kerry. I made a treacherous trip to my GP with him when he was a few days old. None of the sidewalks were clear in Tralee at 11 o’clock in the morning. There were lots of complaints about the Council. What there wasn’t? Lots of people out clearing roads and footpaths or spreading sand.
Who does this in Maine? We do.
Shovel steps, clear the driveway (plows bury footpaths and walkways), spread sand and salt, repeat. This is a never-ending cycle of drudgery but there is no magic snow removal fairy and the cities and towns keep the main roads cleared. The rest is up to you. Residential and commercial properties clear the sidewalks and access routes around their buildings. Neighbors shovel driveways of those who can’t do it themselves or those who aren’t home. Ice and snow are particularly dangerous for anyone with mobility or balance issues so be kind and clear the whole footpath up and down the road if you are able-bodied.
Those Ice Things for Your Shoes are a Waste of Time
On a related note, don’t buy those crampon things they sell at Aldi and Lidl to slip over your regular shoes. They are a gimmick and are not going to help you. Wear flat boots and wool socks and walk slow. Help pregnant women, people with disabilities and the elderly get from the car to the wherever they are going. Ugg-style boots are not outdoor boots. They are extremely slippery and have caused me to wipeout on just wet tiles in the town square.
For the Love of God, Stop Pouring Boiling Water on your Windscreen!
I know you love to boil the kettle and this method of ice removal seems logical. My family arrived that Christmas of 2009 and still talk about the rental car guy running out the car park in Shannon with a boiled kettle to ‘clear the wind screen’. Hot water will indeed melt ice but you know what else it will do? Crack your windscreen. The temperature change between the boiling water and the ice can crack your windscreen. That’s an expensive (and unnecessary) gamble. Spend an extra 10 minutes. Get bundled up, go out and turn your car on and let it heat up with the defrost on high. Wait in the house. If you have inches of snow on your car, use a sweeping brush to clear the car roof and windows off. The snow flies off while driving and creates visibility issues for other drivers. An old credit card works like an ice scraper if you are stuck.
I lived in Ireland for ten years and every winter there was some ice and lots of talk about no one had the right gear. Just buy an ice scraper and put it in your car when winter comes. They cost about $10 and are in hardware stores. The really good ones have a brush on the end. Simple Maine pleasures.