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In between shoveling, we asked folks from hot spots about their first time seeing snow

Is the series of snowy storms in North America making you a little ... um ... squirrely? Well imagine if this was the first time you ever saw snow in your life! We reached out to people in the Global South and other parts to share their stories of the first time they saw snow.
Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
Is the series of snowy storms in North America making you a little ... um ... squirrely? Well imagine if this was the first time you ever saw snow in your life! We reached out to people in the Global South and other parts to share their stories of the first time they saw snow.

Has the novelty worn off yet? Much of North America is snowed in, and unless you're a school-age kid angling for a snow day, the white stuff may be losing its charms by this time of year.

But what if you'd never seen snow before? Thinking back to when snow was truly a wonder put us in mind of a story we did some years back: We asked people from hot climates around the globe to tell us about the first time they encountered snow.

What we got back helped us look at snow with fresh eyes. There was the Brazilian college roommate who, "when the first snowfall came, [she] ran outside and proceeded to fill an envelope with the stuff. It was her intention to mail it back to Brazil." Or the man from Sudan who learned the hard way not to shovel snow with his bare hands. "I'm still so embarrassed I tried that."

With the upper latitudes once again digging out from the latest dump, we thought it would be a good time to get back in touch with how it feels to see snow for the very first time.

Diana Gage, a doctor in California, sent us this tale:

My first snow happened on a quiet Saturday evening. We had been pestering Dad, who had 10 months more American experience than us, about how snow actually felt. "Is it like cotton?" we asked. "Do your clothes get wet? Do you have to carry an umbrella like you do on a rainy day?" Endless questions. On that quiet Saturday, soft, fat snowflakes floated down from the sky. My brother and I rushed out to our yard without a jacket or an umbrella and understood at that moment that snow felt like pure magic. Soon our yard turned white as if someone picked up a paintbrush, dipped it in white paint, and swiped down a few large strokes.

Anatole Manzi, a deputy chief medical officer with Partners in Health and an Aspen New Voices Fellow, told us of this rude awakening:

My homeland is Rwanda, where I spent my childhood. I had only seen snow on the screen, never in person. I dreamed of touching the white flakes when I moved to Boston. But as soon as I stepped out of Logan International Airport, I felt a chill that made me doubt if I was wearing any pants. My wish for a long snow adventure vanished. I missed the warmth and beauty of Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills. I had to adapt to the cold. I switched from cotton pants to jeans and wore thick jackets and gloves. My friends taught me how to drink hot apple cider, use the weather app to plan, ski for fun, and build snowmen and igloos with my kids. I learned to [love] the snow.

Egerton Neto grew up in Brazil before moving to the United Kingdom, where he is now pursuing a graduate degree at the London School of Economics. His first snow was a little ... underwhelming.

It was a freezing day in Oxford, U.K. Although I generally despised winter, I was eager to see the white wonder I had admired in so many childhood movies. As I was returning from the gym, it happened: small flakes started falling onto the car window. I implored my friends to stop the car; I wanted to experience it firsthand. When we did, it was... okay. It felt like a lighter version of rain.

I decided to wait for it to accumulate. The following day, I ventured outside to check. There was a decent amount of snow in the yard, but it had become dirty and started melting throughout the day. The scene looked rather sad. The magic I had envisioned was lost in translation, from the cinematic wonderlands to the muddy reality of an Oxford yard. The rest of the year was spent with a new resolution: to chase the sun and escape the next winter.

Jane Otai, a program manager for URADCA, an urban research and development center based in Kenya and an Aspen New Voices fellow, first saw snow in 1991.

That was the first time I left Kenya to go to Europe. I went to the Netherlands. I went with summer clothing – getting there, I remember feeling so cold like I would die. Looking at the snow, the ice, the glitter, I was not used to it. It was so strange that the sun is shining and it is cold. In Africa, when the sun is shining it's hot. How is that right?

But the beauty of the snow, she says, gave her a new appreciation of the Biblical phrase about being "washed as white as snow."

When Otai's son moved to Canada, she made certain to outfit him properly.

I had to look for winter shoes, gloves, hats to cover his head. I called him every day: Did you go out, did you dress up well?

Then there are the people who just haven't seen snow for ... a very long time. Consider this story, shared by Instagram follower Justin Celmer:

My mom lost everything in the Lahaina, Maui, fires, so I flew her all the way out to [Washington, D.C.] to live with me and rebuild from scratch. This has been the first time she's seen snow in almost 50 years, and it's been a treat watching her wake up, look outside and throw on every layer she owns just to sit on the couch and watch it through the window because it *looks* cold. Every time she has stepped outside I just hear a loud "Nope!" followed by the door closing and her making another cup of hot coffee.

This round of winter storms was also the first snow encounter for the young man in this anecdote, shared via Instagram by reader Erin Bee:

One of my interns is from Malawi. He never saw snow until last week. He and the other interns went outside to play in it and their joy was so contagious that locals began stepping outside their homes, offering them sleds and enjoying it with them. There's just something about first snow!

Instagram follower caroc.styles writes that, growing up in Ecuador, she first experienced snow on an exchange program in Connecticut.

I was excited to see snow for the first time. It was so nice for about two weeks, and then I realized it'd keep snowing for like six months and the magic was over. I was miserable after that and went back to cozy perfect Ecuador with 70 degree weather all year long. It made me realize how the grass is not greener on the other side, and I was never again jealous of people in other countries having snow.

Readers! Do you come from a snowless country? We'd love to hear your stories about encountering snow for the first time! Send them to goatsandsoda@npr.org, with the word "Snow" in the subject and we may use your snow memory in a future story.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gabriel Spitzer
Gabriel Spitzer (he/him) is Senior Editor of Short Wave, NPR's daily science podcast. He comes to NPR following years of experience at Member stations – most recently at KNKX in Seattle, where he covered science and health and then co-founded and hosted the weekly show Sound Effect. That show told character-driven stories of the region's people. When the Pacific Northwest became the first place in the U.S. hit by COVID-19, the show switched gears and relaunched as Transmission, one of the country's first podcasts about the pandemic.