What you say and do depends on where you live.

Florida Palms in Storm
What you say and do depends on where you live.
| Credit: Stan Honda/Getty

Spring can usher in some major weather drama across the South. Sometimes it feels like winter and summer are duking it out to control the thermostat, leaving spring caught in the volatile middle.

Remember tornado drills?

During my schooldays, a tornado warning would send all the students into the hall, where we sat in long lines on the floor. If memory serves, we had to hold a textbook over our heads. That sounds mighty uncomfortable, now that I think about it.

As a child, I loved the thunder and the wind and the deep shades of purple painted across the sky. Later, of course, I developed a healthy respect for high wind and fierce lightning. And I've noticed something.

Southerners approach weather events differently, depending on where we live.

Most of us take cover when we see lightning, but I was once with a group of Texans who drove out to some flat country so they could see it better. They understood how far away those streaks of light were —wide open spaces can be deceiving. Even so,  I imagined I could hear Mama screaming at me all the way from Alabama: Have you lost your mind?!!!

Do you say, "Watch the weather" or "Good luck"?

In the Deep South, as potential "tornadic activity" moves in, we will say to each other, "Y'all, watch the weather." But in coastal Louisiana, when a hurricane is approaching, friends and neighbors often part company with, "Good luck."

I think that speaks to the striking difference between those two storms. A tornado can skip and hop, striking one community or even one house but not another, staying on the ground for hours or just a few minutes; if we "watch the weather" closely enough, maybe we can stay out of harm's way. But hurricanes?  They don't skip and hop. They pick a spot and engulf it. So you have one choice to make: Stay or go.

There's an unusual blend of adoration and resignation among coastal Southerners. At the end of the day, they seem willing to accept a certain amount of risk in order to live in a place that speaks to their soul like no other. Yes, we know what could happen—but just look at that beautiful water.

Don't mess with their dunes.

On the islands of North Carolina's Outer Banks, locals don't put up with any foolishness when it comes to their dunes. They protect those sands like family members because the dunes help defend island communities from fierce Atlantic storms. Do not break rules safeguarding the dunes. Do. Not.

"I'll evacuate—next time."

Southern Living was on the Mississippi Gulf Coast within a few months of Hurricane Katrina, which struck in August 2005. And the whole beachfront looked like it had been bombed—several times. I remember staring at the damage and trying to envision what kind of wind and water it would take to pitch a barge across the highway like a football and land it on top of a house.

And as we talked with people from Bay St. Louis to Ocean Springs, we heard the same story over and over from people who didn't evacuate: I've lived down here all my life. I've been through a lot of hurricanes. I thought I could handle it. I'll never stay again.

Great Southern storms change us just as surely as they change the landscapes we love. Yes, we know what could happen—but just look at this beautiful place.

Besides weather, what else do Southerners know a thing or two about?

Just remember—Southerners can handle all kinds of weather, but even a light dusting of snow will shut down everybody south of Tennessee.