The snow is coming down in big fluffy flakes. The sky is battleship gray. I'm booming down the Everett Turnpike working the cell phone and traffic up ahead is slowing. This is bad news: I'm late, as always.

Worse news -- the road is a sheet of ice. Whooaaaaa. Fishtailing. Whooaaaaa. There's room in the left lane to slide past the tractor-trailer looming ahead. So it will only be a near-death experience, not a death experience. Excellent.

"A wind-chill warning is in effect for tonight," says the voice on the car radio. "Temperatures will drop to about 5 degrees, but it will feel like 30 below."

Ah! This is more like it.

Finally, today, the New Hampshire primary FEELS like a New Hampshire primary. The winter has been freakishly mild in New England this year. When the snow hit Boston early this morning, it was the first flurry in some 300 days. We've covered candidates in sunshine and balmy breezes, on cool autumnal nights with the moon big and ripe in the sky. You could say it has been eternal October, except that October usually involves some snow at these latitudes.

This is hardly the American way of choosing a president. A president is supposed to be tested in the crucible of New Hampshire winter -- the bitter freeze, the sopping or stinging snow, the black ice. To this day, Bob Dole blames his failure in 1988 to win the Republican nomination on the fact that George Bush had better snow-plowing photo ops. Snow is at the very heart of the perhaps the greatest mystery in the history of presidential primaries: Was Edmund Muskie crying outside the Manchester Union-Leader building that day in 1972, or were those tears actually melting snowflakes?

The snow seemed to catch people by surprise. There was no sign of snow plows as I slipped and slid down to Nashua this morning -- just spun cars and fender-benders and a jackknifed automobile transporter. You might think that Mark Longabaugh, New Hampshire coordinator for Bill Bradley's presidential bid, would be ready for such a development. But apparently he was lulled into complacency by the warm, dry winter: he was as late to Bradley's morning speech as I was.

Almost immediately, he was on his cell phone. He looked worried, unhappy. "Well, first snow-out," he said simply. A campaign event was being cancelled because of snow, for the first time this cycle. Surely it won't be the last.

Most people -- pols and reporters -- appear to be wearing their light coats and street shoes, although the wily veteran Jack Germond, who is on his eighth or tenth New Hampshire primary, has been sporting his parka for days. The selection of clothing is perhaps the toughest riddle a political reporter faces in primary season. There is a limit to the amount of stuff you want to be shlepping from plane to bus to crummy hotel. If your candidate is going from South Carolina to Delaware to New Hampshire, say, does it make sense to pack a heavy coat and galumphing boots?

Personally, I always guess wrong. Eight years ago I wore loafers with a hole in them on my first trip to New Hampshire. As I drove through the mountains toward Claremont -- where Arkansas governor Bill Clinton was going to tour a factory and discuss the allegations of a little known lounge singer named Gennifer Flowers -- the snow came down like a gelid shower. The minute I stepped out of the car, my right foot was soaked, then frozen.

Now that it's snowy at last, business is likely to pick up at the Macy's next door to the famed, fraying, Wayfarer Inn in Bedford. This is where reporters go to buy warm coats, sweaters and boots when we have misjudged the weather. The down parka in my hall closet at home came from this store two cycles ago. (My boots I picked up while covering the Columbine shooting.)

It's noon, and the snow is falling in even bigger, fluffier flakes, as perfect as Currier and Ives. Lovely and chill at the same time. Makes you feel better even as it makes you work a little harder. The New Hampshire primary, as it's supposed to be.