Alexandra Troy had already crossed bottled water, batteries and food off her shopping list when she came to Market Basket in North Andover yesterday to buy firewood and bread.
"I really don't need to be here," said Troy, who admitted that her Andover home was well-stocked with supplies to get her family through today's snowstorm.
As the children of a mother who lived in the Netherlands during World War II, Troy said she and her siblings were taught growing up to always be prepared.
"My mother lived through a war," said Troy. "She had an entire extra room of stuff. It's kind of in us since we were kids."
Wintry weather is nothing new to New Englanders. So why is it, before the first flakes fall, we flock to grocery and hardware stores as if our lives depend on it?
"Even though we know it may not be the worst storm ever, it might be," said Doreen Arcus, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. "You don't want to get caught."
Arcus said it's a question of probability that runs through the minds of most people.
"It's also why we buckle our seat belts," said Arcus. "Most of the time, when you get in the car you don't need to worry about it. But the consequences for that one time are preventable.
"We can't do a whole lot about the weather. Having control is very empowering. We can't keep the storm from coming, but we can be prepared for when it hits," Arcus continued.
The National Weather Service yesterday forecast snowfall totals between 10 and 16 inches in the Merrimack Valley, with winds today between 20 and 25 mph and gusts approaching 40 mph.
A blizzard warning was issued on the east coast of Massachusetts beginning at 2 a.m. today and lasting until 8 p.m. Snowfall was expected to begin early this morning and at its heaviest accumulate at a rate of 2 to 3 inches per hour, creating a treacherous morning commute.
Bryan Favor, who owns Main Street Hardware in North Andover, said customers came in at a steady clip yesterday to buy shovels, gloves, ice melt and other winter supplies.
"They're heeding the warning of the weather people," said Favor. "I think they're cautious. I don't know if it's overreacting. They're just being proactive."
Favor said New Englanders who lived through the Blizzard of '78 and were stuck at home for days know how important it is to plan ahead before a big storm.
"If people went through it, I could see why they worry," said Jennifer Gaznick of Methuen.
Gaznick, who had just finished buying groceries at Market Basket in Methuen, said the store was "mobbed" with shoppers looking to stock up before the storm hit.
"I think some people just blow it out of proportion," said Gaznick.
Wanda Brown, a longtime employee of Shoe City Hardware Co. in Haverhill, described a similar scene of "wall-to-wall" shoppers at Market Basket in Plaistow on Monday.
"You see every cart full of milk, full of bread," said Brown. "Everybody freaks out like it's the end of the world. Everybody panics."
Brown said she has only to think back to the 2008 ice storm, when she went without power for 11 days, to understand why some people would rather be safe than sorry.
"I think a lot of people panic because they don't think they'll be able to get to a store," said Brown. "It's always good to be prepared."
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