Mainers like to think of themselves as a hardy bunch, able to handle a blizzard without batting an eye.

But apparently we’re just a supply of water, loaf of bread and gallon of milk away from chaos when there’s a 2-foot snowfall.

That’s the conclusion from observing traffic patterns at local supermarkets in the run-up to the year’s biggest snowstorm, a wallop from Mother Nature that dropped more than 2 feet of snow in some areas of the state Tuesday.

Milk and bread are just a couple of the staples that Mainers rush to buy once the Weather Channel names a storm and TV reporters are dispatched to the Kennebunk service area on the turnpike to prove to viewers that, yes, it really is snowing outside.

At Hannaford supermarkets, the top item to fly off the shelves before a big storm is bottled water, said Eric Blom, a spokesman for the Scarborough-based supermarket chain. He said that’s probably because of the large number of people who live in houses equipped with wells that are knocked offline when the power goes out.

Next is rock salt, which seems to be more of a hardware store product. But if a storm is bearing down, sensible Mainers don’t want to make another stop when they’ve trying to “hunker down.”

Both items are on Hannaford’s “force out” list, Blom said, meaning store workers try to wheel out another pallet of the stuff before the last one is stripped bare by frenzied shoppers.

Bread comes in third on Blom’s list. “It’s a huge item” pre-snowstorm, he said, although no one is really sure why the average Mainer believes survival depends on having a fresh loaf on hand.

Batteries and flashlights are also top sellers, Blom said, but they happily weren’t needed Tuesday as the windblown, powdery snow defied dire predictions of power outages.

Next on the best-seller list is milk, followed by prepared foods – the kind you can just eat from a can or a package if the power goes out. Comfort foods, like hot cocoa, are also popular, he said.

The shopping patterns for Tuesday’s storm followed a predictable path, with heavy crowds jamming stores Monday. Many shoppers seemed to stop by on their way home from work, Blom said, but the stores weren’t particularly crowded later at night.

On Tuesday the stores were largely empty, he said, probably because of all the hunkering down. Store workers volunteered to take shifts, and a few slept at the chain’s distribution center in South Portland so they could help get trucks on the road to replenish stores Wednesday morning.

Blom said the rest of the week will be particularly busy as workers restock shelves and set up snack displays to prepare for Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Then it will be time to get ready for the next wave of storm prep.

Forecasters suggest there’s a possibility of another nor’easter Monday.

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