Last week, the mess in Atlanta from the big winter storm caught the nation’s attention. All the finger pointing suggests someone here in Georgia caused all the problems. I hope they find the bastard.
I got stuck in Savannah, my favorite city in the US. I probably could have driven home on schedule Wednesday afternoon without any trouble. But most of the trip is on a two-lane highway, and information about road conditions in rural Georgia was hard to come by. So I decided better safe than sorry and stayed put.
Snow disasters are inevitable here in Georgia — no matter what anyone does ahead of time — especially in and around Atlanta. Had I sat in my car on the interstate for ten or fifteen hours, I might feel differently. But I didn’t, and hope I never do.
Weather is the main reason I love living in the Deep South. I’ll admit — getting used to the heat and humidity took some doing. But the long, hot summers aren’t the big draw. Most of us, myself included, stay for the mild winters.
Aside from the occasional overnight frost, we don’t often see cold weather before January or after March. The sun shines bright in a cloudless sky more days than not. Barring a cold snap, the mercury reaches into the fifties, sixties, and even into the seventies. A cold front might drop the high into the thirties — rarely below freezing — and never for more than a few days.
To the amusement of folks farther north, anything more than a flurry brings just about everything to a complete standstill. School is cancelled, state government employees have the day off, and private sector workers are encouraged to stay home and off the roads. By noon, the snow melts and everyone gets a beautiful, sunny afternoon off.
Since I moved here in 1997, snow stayed on the ground more than a day or two maybe five times. Spending money on equipment for something that happens so rarely is a low priority — especially in the current economy. The Atlanta area is the most well-equipped in the state to handle snow emergencies. The Department of Transportation is headquartered there with the bulk of the state’s equipment, and most of the fifteen or twenty counties that make up the Atlanta-Metro area have a plow or two and a few boxes of salt.
The National Weather Service and various meteorologists claim Atlanta was duly warned. Like they’re always spot on with their predictions. Folks raise hell when schools close and the bad weather fails to materialize. Officials are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
The lesson learned this go around, according to both the Atlanta mayor and the governor, is to stagger release from schools and businesses. The shit ton of people who pass through Atlanta via I-75, I-85, and I-20 had nothing to do with it. The problem was caused by everyone hitting the highways at the same time. Nice theory, but traffic is an issue in Atlanta every day. A single accident in the right spot wreaks havoc for hours, no matter the time of day.
Call me a pessimist, but I don’t see any city in the Deep South handling a snow emergency well. Timing is everything. Overnight and weekend storms are bad enough. Snow hitting during the week after school starts and before five o’clock traffic eases will be a disaster every time.