The Behavioral Science of Snow Removal

Schneeschaufel snow shovel

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It occurs to me that those living closer to the equator may not have the luxury of appraising neighbors on methods of snow removal.  By closer I mean closer than one of the northern-most United States of America.  Mention you are from Minnesota, and people immediately conjure images of wolf-like dogs racing across an open tundra, a parka-clad rider mushing them on in search of the next meal of blubber.

Yeah, it’s something like that.  Only I’m in my Dodge Neon, the dog has positioned herself on the center console looking out over the dashboard, and I’m on my way to the supermarket.  Sure it’s cold, and there’s snow on the roads.  It’s Minnesota.  It’s winter.  Get over it.  The minute a flake falls from the sky, everyone wants to know what the roads are like.  My answer?  “Eh . . it’s winter.”

And with the season comes the practiced art of snow removal.  Minnesotans have been removing snow for centuries.  Technically, the snow is not removed.  You can’t remove snow unless you bring it inside, melt it and flush it down the drain.  No, we move it.  From here to there.  Sometimes, we have so much snow to move that we scoop it up in front loaders, empty it into dump trucks and haul it away.  I’m not sure where they go with it, but if it were me I’d haul it to California.

While snow in the city comes with parking bans, tow trucks and impound fees, in the suburbs it’s all about what your neighbor is doing.  Why should winter be different than any other season?  As soon as the lawn is covered, and they can no longer judge the green of your grass, they will begin to analyze the white of your driveway.

Technically speaking, if one does not remove the snow from one’s driveway, the snow will eventually remove itself.  However, if your intention is to leave the snow until it melts in the spring, after driving over it and the fluctuations in temperature, you’re going to end up axle-deep in frozen ruts going nowhere fast.  I think all Minnesotans can agree that some amount of snow movement is necessary.

You have several options, offering various stages of effort and cost.  You can buy a shovel or hire a kid to shovel you out.  You can buy a snowblower, or hope a neighbor brings one over.  Some people put a plow on the front of their truck and not only plow out their place, but make money plowing out others.  My dad used to take out his four-wheel drive with the plow on the front and drive around looking for little old ladies shoveling their own driveway or families stuck in the ditch.  His pay was the smile on their face.

Once suburbanites have chosen our option of snow removal, we are obligated to assess our neighbors’ methods and motivation.  It is safe to say that a homeowner can be accurately labeled by the driveway he keeps.

  • The Gambler:  This guy checks the forecast first.  He may leave up to three inches lay if he thinks it will melt by 2 p.m. tomorrow.  If the stuff is still falling, he gauges the weight per shovelful, duration of snowfall, and rate of accumulation before making his plan of attack.
  • The Sloth:  This one owns a snowblower, but will wait to see if it melts first.  He is often seen three days later carelessly snow-blowing ice chunks toward windows and small children.
  • The OCD:  He is out there with his shovel as soon as a dusting appears.  Unfortunately, as soon as he finishes the bottom of the driveway, the top is already accumulating snow again, and he can’t possibly go inside until the whole thing is clear.  You might want to bring over a cup of hot chocolate or a small meal.
  • The Over-Acheiver:  You can spot this star student by the way he not only shovels his sidewalk and driveway, but his effort extends to parts of the yard, and even into the street.  Where other houses’ curbs slope naturally to the street, his is cut at a 90-degree angle exactly at curb depth.
  • The Good Samaritan:  This guy can often be spotted down the street, snow-blowing out every plow drift along the way.  The plow drift, as Northerners know, is what the city plow deposits at the end of your driveway after you have meticulously cleared it out.  The Good Samaritan wears a frost-encrusted smile accompanied by a frozen-snot icicle mustache.
  • The Homeschooler:  You can spot this one by the number of shovels lined up in various sizes outside the door.  While the shovels are in use, please slow to 15 mph as children will be present.

Me?  I’m inside huddled next to the space heater.  The chimneys across the street are emitting a steady flow of horizontal steam, communicating a cold, steady wind against a sunny blue sky.  I can hear the rhythmic scrape of Bubba’s shovel, his black toque bobbing occasionally above the window sash.  He finally invested in a snowblower this year.  And as Murphy’s Law dictates, I think we can forecast a fairly light year for the stuff, rarely dropping enough to start it up.

Maybe that makes me the smart homeowner.

Peace . . .

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About Jean

Trying to make sense of it all and . . . for the most part . . . doing it. View all posts by Jean

7 responses to “The Behavioral Science of Snow Removal

  • dragonflyzia

    If that is true than I am so very happy that Bubba bought a snow blower!!!! Now we just need the Browns to lose so he’ll can stop freezing over😃

  • Lois Field

    If a slight winter comes I’ll owe Bubba something special. 🙂 One of the reasons I refused to buy a home in the snow belt was because of the plow drifts. They are rock solid and not moveable by me.

    I had to laugh at your description of how others view Minnesota. 🙂 I vacationed there one year and learned that while you get colder temps than I do, you don’t get as much snow. There’s that lake effect that turns a small band south of the lakes into “buried till further notice”.

  • ahhthesimplelife

    Hello Jean, Very fun read! Thanks for making me smile! I live in Massachusetts, and our winters are quite bad enough. Hoping to visit friends in Florida for a few weeks in January.
    Christmas blessings to all!

  • insearchofitall

    That was a hoot to read. I like the way you break down the neighbors into categories. You do have my sympathy for the long, cold winters. I’ll take the cold any day over the heat though. I missed autumn altogether. It went from hot to cold in a heartbeat.

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