Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

February 20, 2014

Preparing a snake and three tarantulas for a winter storm is not easy

— — Last week, I was on a vacation that I had carefully planned in advance. I was going to stay with my Mom and Dad up in Fayette County until Wednesday, come home to Mercer County on Thursday, and then head south to my sister’s family in Charlotte on Friday.

Unfortunately, I didn’t consult with Mother Nature. When Wednesday arrived, the National Weather Service had issued a winter storm warning that promised heavy, wet snow with the possibility of power outages. Worse, snow was falling on Charlotte and turning travel conditions into a slippery mess.

For the people who slept through biology class, snakes are cold blooded. Unlike humans, dogs and other mammals, snakes are reptiles. They cannot generate their own body heat and have to rely on outside sources like the sun or heat lamps to stay warm. If my home lost its electricity, my snake and three tarantulas were going to be in serious trouble.

I wondered what to do. My parents have a gas generator that kicks on when the power goes out, but it failed to work the last time they had a power outage. This was during a snap of subzero weather. Fortunately, the outage didn’t last long and a helpful neighbor got the generator going. Service personnel told Mom that the problem had been fixed, but I wasn’t willing to leave until I had seen that fact for myself.

Then Mom had an idea: Go get your critters and bring them here.

I was pretty surprised. Mom and my sister, Karen, were never fans of my pets. They would yell for me if they saw even a tiny house spider, so getting a tarantula was never an option. Getting a pet snake was even less of an option. Now Mom was inviting me to bring my pets into close proximity.

Naturally, I left immediately and drove back to Mercer County. I packed my snake, Alice, into a smaller tank, swaddled it in a blanket, and both snake and tarantulas into my car. I returned to Fayette County just before the snow started.

Mom had never seen my snake, so I pulled the blanket back and let her see the serpent. Alice is a black and yellow California king snake. King snakes get their name from the fact that they will eat other snakes. An adult king snake could eat a rattlesnake. They’re immune to the venom.

Mom said Alice was “pretty,” but declined an offer to hold her. I knew better than to reveal my tarantulas — Nora, Curly, and Legs — because Mom would have greeted them with a heavy object.

The next morning, I woke to find the region under a blanket of snow. I logged onto the Internet and looked up the Appalachian Power website and its outage map. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were hardly any outages at all. The heavy, wet snow forecasters had predicted was a lighter, fluffier variety. Snow didn’t pull down tree limbs or power lines, so the region was spared another major outage. I still remember the blackouts from a few winters ago, and I wasn’t eager to repeat the experience.

My dash to Mercer County wasn’t necessary, but it did save me a lot of anxiety. Mom and Dad always taught me to be prepared when bad weather was predicted. Mom always insists that I have water with me, a blanket, and something to eat if I have to be on the road. I also keep a small shovel in my trunk, and it’s helped me more than once.

I also try to keep bottled water and food so I don’t have to cook if a storm cut me off from grocery stores for a few days. We’re coming up on the 21st anniversary of the blizzard of 1993. I was living in Bluefield that year, and I was fortunate enough to have enough supplies ready for a few days. Snowplows buried my car, and digging it out took a major effort.

The snow was like wet cement, and it lingered for weeks. We’ve had other messy storms, but that one really stands out. One emergency item I’ve added to my supplies is heat packs.

 They are the type hunters use to warm themselves when they’re out in the wilderness, and they serve as an emergency heat source for my pets if I have a power outage in the middle of winter. Of course, I have to be at home in order to use them. Spiders and snakes don’t have hands.

Like everyone else, I’m hoping the winter won’t hit us with more storms and more digging out of snowdrifts. Spring is approaching, and it can’t arrive soon enough for me. Everyone needs warm weather, a chance to open their windows, and a break from washing salt off their cars. We need a break from anxiously watching weather forecasts and running to the grocery store when a winter storm is approaching.

Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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