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SNOW IN DIXIE

It's not like they never see snow down there.

Yankees who have moved to the South only to return home -- yes, there are some of them -- claim to remember mornings so cold that their breath froze solid, forming comic-book dialogue balloons they would have to periodically break off and discard. The streets would be littered with them, one man said, until more normal temperatures arrived, suddenly melting all the frozen words and filling the air with a four-day screech that sounded like Strom Thurmond on helium.

Frankly, we were doubtful. The gentleman had either picked up the southern knack for telling tall tales or the one for unauthorized distilling of spirits, we thought, but now, after watching film of this week's weather in the Old South, we're not so sure.

Certainly, his stories about southern snowfall seem to ring true. It really does snow down there and when it does, everything stops. Everything. Whole cities just close down. There are no snow plows, no road salt and, even if there was, no spreaders. People don't know how to drive in snow down there -- not that everyone behind the wheel up here is so good at it -- so they just stay home. And all it takes is a couple of inches.

Now, apparently, they'll have to have a Super Bowl in it. Sunday's NFL championship game is to be held in Atlanta, where four inches of snow was forecast to fall Friday. Roads around the state were slicked with ice and a winter storm watch was posted. Freezing rain and snow are forecast throughout the weekend.

This can be a serious matter, as any soul who's ever spent a January in Buffalo knows all too well. Still, it's hard not to marvel at the capricious mood in which Old Man Winter finds himself this year. We hardly had a flake in Western New York until the middle of this month and, even then, with just over 13 inches, it's been a picnic, albeit a chilly one, compared to this time last year, when 5 1/2 feet of snow fell in just 16 days.

Meantime, the South is buckling under the weight of unexpected snow. Parts of Arkansas were buried under 15 inches by Friday and a foot had fallen in Mississippi.

It's not that we're jealous or anything, but we've got to ask: What in the name of Barry Lillis is going on here? A great, ripping nor'easter came riding up the coast the other day, and we didn't get a bit of it. What does it mean? We asked our friend, the prodigal son, who said the answer will be revealed in the Super Bowl. If Tennessee wins, he said, then Buffalo is likely to get so steamed that it'll never snow here again.

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