Atlanta’s winter fiasco

Atlanta traffic stalled because that’s ice on the road, not snow.

If you pay any attention at all to the news, you’ve heard about the winter traffic debacle in Atlanta, Ga., this week. You’ve seen the pictures of roadways turned into parking lots by a sea of vehicles that got stuck or ran out of gas or were abandoned — any or all of those. And if you live in the northern two-thirds of the country, you’re probably scratching your head. How could a measly two or three inches of snow cause such chaos?

First, set aside the blame game wherein Atlanta’s mayor said those interstates running through and around Atlanta are the state’s responsibility, and the governor said they are the city’s responsibility, and both blamed the meteorologists for inaccurate forecasts, and the meteorologists showed video proving they were correct. Consider: Atlanta and other cities in the south rarely see snow. Hence it is not financial feasible for them to maintain large fleets of snow removal equipment, sanding trucks, and stockpiles of sand, salt, and ice slicer. For the same reason, snow tires, snow shovels, chains, ice scrapers, and deicer are not stocked by local merchants. (When I lived there, we had snow shovels and scrapers only because we’d brought them from our previous home in the Northeast.)

Now, before you point and snicker and say “Southerners just don’t know how to drive in snow” or “It’s only two or three inches of snow. Who can’t drive in that?” consider this. As often as not when a storm like this hits the South, it’s more ice than snow. Look at the picture above. That gleam on the road is ice, not snow. And driving on ice is difficult if not impossible for any driver.

Finally, although things might have changed since I lived there, those virtual parking lots on the freeways were typical on any given day. Traffic routinely gridlocked so badly that some people actually got out of their cars and played Frisbee in the median while waiting for traffic to move again. Atlanta became my reference point for heavy traffic everywhere. Ever since, if I can move at all, even at 2 mph, I don’t complain, because in Atlanta I so often didn’t move at all.

But having said all that, I will now add my criticism. Where was the personal responsibility of those people? When you know how ill-equipped your city is for dealing with winter storms, and a bad storm is forecast, take some responsibility for your own safety and that of your family. Don’t send your kids to school if there’s doubt about getting them home. Don’t make that commute to work. Or if you go to work, at least be responsible enough to keep an eye on the weather and leave when you feel you must; don’t be a sheep and wait for permission to leave. You know what kind of drive you face and what you can handle; the boss deciding everyone’s fate might live only three blocks away.

I speak from personal experience, from a day when my normally 20-minute commute became a 4-hour struggle. All because I passively waited for the boss to tell me I could leave, even though I’d been watching the snow pile up for several hours and was worried sick about the deteriorating conditions. That was the last time I waited passively for someone else to make a decision that directly affected my personal safety.

Atlanta traffic looks like this every day, not just on snow days.

18 thoughts on “Atlanta’s winter fiasco

  1. I totally agree. I learned to drive during a snowy New England winter. Then happened to be in Atlanta in the mid-60s during a rare dusting of snow. People were skidding off the roads (much less traffic back then). It made me realize that it takes a certain skill set to drive snowy or icy roads that folks in the milder climates simply don’t have. I find the same out here on the west coast when we get that rare dusting. The ones that crack me up are those who seem to think their four-wheel drive gives them magical powers on ice. 🙂

    1. Nobody can drive on ice. Your chances are better with studded snow tires, but still, ice is ice. And it’s obvious in that top photo that those roads are icy. And making it worse, Atlanta is hilly.

      I got my first all-wheel drive after moving here, but it hasn’t changed anything. I’ve always been a cautious, defensive driver who assumes everyone else on the road is an idiot out to get me. I just have a slightly better chance of avoiding them now, since everyone has AWD.

  2. Great post. I agree with what you stated. However, I do blame the mayor. I watched Al Roker stating that the bad weather was in the forecast on Monday. The mayor should take the blame for some of this foolishness. However, the lesson learned from now on is , if the weatherman states, “THERE IS A CHANCE…” of whatever, stay home! 🙁

    1. The mayor and the governor are both to blame for not having a plan and working together to prepare the roads and warn the populace. The weatherman was right and the next time, they’d all better pay attention.

  3. Well said. All the finger pointing is beginning to sound like Hurricane Katrina. The weather service issued warnings around 3 am – plenty of time to call school/work off.
    It used to be said “No one will take care of you as well as yourself.” TIme to adopt some personal responsibility. It’s hard with certain bosses, but sometimes you have to just walk out. Just be firm and have the facts.
    No matter the climate, AWD is valuable.
    Much better to be safe than sorry.

    1. I know some bosses and some work situations could make it difficult or impossible to just get up and leave. But if those who could did, it would at least spread out the traffic.

      Like Katrina, the officials here totally failed to act when they should have. However, unlike Katrina, these victims were not trapped in place by poverty and a lack of transportation. They had cars and a choice.

      1. As you know Atlanta has terrible traffic and seems like everyone got on the road at once – icy dangerous roads. Horrible situation
        Yeah, it’s hard with certain bosses. Some are bullies and some really not very smart.
        We once were hosting/running a state wide meeting as a hurricane approached. I watched the weather service and the last day went to the head and said “I’m leaving as authorities have already posted when roads till close – and you’d better get these people on planes or be ready to have them all at your house.” She said “Oh? I had no idea it was that bad.” I left. They shut down early and managed to get everyone out or in a safe place.
        People lack so much common sense.
        Just a note ( I lived in NOLA) authorities had transportation arranged. Warnings were given. Pick-up to transportation sites was happening.Having escaped so many times, so many chose to stay. It’s always a gamble and calculated risk (all those waiting school buses flooded at the stadium – they should have moved those when obvious no one was getting on them)
        The hurricane actually didn’t cause the damage Friends working in the hospital were on phone in dry street after it passed – then water rolled down the street from breached/broken flood levies. So state and local authorities where the heck did all that tax money collected when you bought gas specifically designated for levy system go? Could it all have been avoided ( and those people been perfectly fine as before?)
        Snow, icy or water – we don’t seem to be learning. If CA has a massive earthquake with fires, how will people react? Natural disasters no longer affect one area.
        Do you remember the old very organized Civil Defense system? Do we need that again?

        1. Yes, it was the breached levies that caused the bulk of the problem — the levies that were never repaired and upgraded as they should have been. Government corruption and ineptitude.

          I do remember the Civil Defense system. It seemed more effective, perhaps because it was more localized? We need to “get a grip” because I think natural disasters are likely to get worse and more frequent. The handwriting is on the wall …

          1. It was local under guidelines from DC? My grandmother was a block chairman or something. Buildings had shelter symbols and number of occupants that could be cared for by the stored supplies (already in place)
            You’d think it would be a good idea to organize and prepare local areas for possible disasters and quick responses.
            Family in CA is concerned about the upcoming fire season – CA snow pack is light this year and there’s already too little water.
            Guess our government is too busy with other important stuff…like Homeland security rounding up fake Super Bowl souvenirs.
            It’s Backwards World, right?

          2. After that last fire, I really worry about CA. They sounded so much drier than CO, and I didn’t think that was possible. Now that you’ve reminded me of the fires … I think I’ll go outside and kiss that beautiful 6″ of snow in my yard.

    1. I was caught in something like this on the Massachusetts Turnpike one Easter weekend. Late spring snowstorm. Traffic was snarled, you couldn’t go around on the shoulders because people were stopped or stuck there, people were running out of gas, the gas stations along the route sold out of gas, food, and drink. You couldn’t get off the limited access road because you couldn’t get to an exit. It happened because so many people had already removed their snow tires (our hosts had warned us not to do that) and because it was a holiday weekend. We had food, drink, ample gas, and studded snow tires. But we were trapped by less prepared motorists.

    1. There was a time, when I was much, much younger, when, if the office was open, I would have dutifully made my way to work in any conditions and dutifully stayed there until the boss said I could leave. “If he can do it, so can I.” Turns out that’s not necessarily true. “He” could be a real jerk, drive a tank, have no family, live a block away, etc.

... and that's my two cents