Thursday, January 30, 2014

When it Snows in Georgia

Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough. ~Earl Wilson

We did not go out for errands on Wednesday this week, but we had gotten in an extra piano lesson on Monday and Living Science cancelled classes for Tuesday and Wednesday due to the extreme cold and possibility of a winter storm. Good thing too, because of what happened....

First, I have to say that those of us who are originally from the northern states are always amazed at the level of unpreparedness that seems inevitable even when Georgians know a snow/ice storm is coming, but what began Tuesday morning this week went far beyond the worst case scenarios I could have imagined. It really could not have been much worse if there had been an unscheduled bomb drill in the middle of Atlanta that the general public mistook for the real thing. The magnitude of what three little inches of fluffy, white stuff and below freezing temperatures can do to this area is unimaginable unless you experience it for yourself.

It all started with the weather models showing that a storm would sweep across Georgia probably blanketing it with snow and possibly freezing rain somewhere...the best guess was south of Atlanta, because of the jet stream coming up from the south bringing moist air up to the higher atmosphere into the strong winter front moving in from the northwest is the toughest call for meteorologists in pinpointing the dump zone. Even the computer models went back and forth between nearly all of Georgia getting it to most of it hitting south of Atlanta, practically until it was upon us. Having lived in Georgia for well over a decade, I can say unpredictability really should be no surprise to anyone who has lived here even longer. It is just best to expect the worst and be thankful when you are wrong when it comes to winter storms here.

Folks, let me write this again so there is no misunderstanding: We all knew for a fact that a completely unpredictable major winter storm was approaching with temperatures in the twenties and lower from the northwest into Georgia. The only uncertainty about it was when, where, and how much snow and/or ice.

So, here is the Mayor of Atlanta and the Governor of Georgia knowing a major winter storm is coming in for sure, like everyone else, knowing it is unpredictable, like everyone else, but instead of erring on the side of caution in fear of being criticized for overreacting, they keep all the government offices open so employees are at work and all children are in school. The Governor honestly stated in a speech that he felt his biggest failure was in not staggering the time government employees could be released from work...yeah, like that would have made all the difference. Now the school boards are independent and can close schools as they see fit, but since all the rest of the government facilities were up and running....

The morning starts out sunny and bright, but well below freezing. Then snow comes in with the clouds, light at first, but within an hour it is obvious that it was accumulating and the roads began to get icy. Our county school board sent out an alert at 10:30 AM that they had decided to release the students early. The elementary students would be leaving the school at 12:30 PM, with the middle schools and high schools at other times (like staggering) but it was already too late at 10:30 AM when the notice was sent. Many buses could not even get to the schools. Many children here and all over the Metro Atlanta area stayed over night in their schools, and those were the luckier ones, for some were stuck on school buses that could not finish routes because of the ice. Most of Atlanta had about three inches of snow, I think we had more like four in our area, but it was hard to tell as it was dry and blowing off roofs and trees.

The governor stated that what caused most of the traffic problem was that businesses sent people home all at the same time, rather than staggering I suppose, so salt trucks could not treat the roads because of all the traffic, as if Atlanta never has much traffic except during rush hours...but again that was already too late as they should have began treating when the snow started falling.  When I thought about it, why wouldn't businesses send home their workers when their children were being sent home by the schools...?

My husband was working only 45 minutes from home, on the average day, even though I did not want him to go out at all because I just knew this was going to be a bad one. The customer account he was at closed so he had to leave around 1:30 in the afternoon. He had already called around to hotels, but they were full. He made sure he had plenty of gas and headed home. He tried different ways because I-20 was closed, so he was looking for a road not yet closed to get north of I-20 and every time he was met with a road that was closed. The radio stations were no help at all: just people telling their own stories about being stuck in stopped traffic and cars being abandoned because of an accident, jack-knifed semis blocking the road, running out of gas, lack of traction, or the driver just gave up all along major highways and roads, even smack in the middle of lanes, because they could not move them off.

At least my husband and I could talk to each other because he had enough gas and his cell phone charger with him, some people had dead cell phone batteries and could no longer talk to anyone. At 10:30 PM, an hour and a half after we last talked, I asked how far he had traveled in that time: two tenths of a mile. There was not much I could do about it so I went to bed, knowing my husband can take care of himself and praying he would arrive soon. Twelve hours after he started, at 1:30 AM, my husband finally made it home. We were fortunate: in our church, a few husbands working in the city have not been home for two nights, either staying at work or hotels near work.

Would you believe that work asked my husband to fly to Boston that day, while he was stuck in his van all those hours? He simply told them that Delta had cancelled all flights, which was true, and all the highways and roads around the airport, we later found out, were the worst of the worst all the next day as well, for we did not have enough sunshine and the temperatures were still in the 20's.

As horrible as Tuesday was, Wednesday was not much better. It took until afternoon before people could get out at all. While we were all advised to stay home, vehicles were still obstructing driving lanes, so people wanted to get their cars, if they could, because the "magic hour" was ending around 5:00 PM, when the sun would start going down and everything that had somewhat thawed in the sunlight would refreeze. Actually, it never got above freezing as we were still in the 20's all that day, but there were some patches of the roads with good amounts of sunshine that melted some of the ice. Power outages were not the big problem as they were with the ice storm in 2011, because it was a dry snow rather than a heavy wet snow or freezing rain which causes pine trees to snap from the added weight and down power lines.

Today (Thursday), the schools were still closed and some businesses were opening with later hours.  This afternoon the temperature has reached above freezing for a few hours and the snow is melting fastest in the sunlight and most of the ice has melted on well traveled roads, but there is still ice in the road in front of our house and there could still be patches of black ice again tonight. Tomorrow and thereafter, the highs are to be in the fifties and rain is in the forecast, so in a day or two more, this debacle will wiped from the natural earth as if it did not even happen, but with over 900 reported accidents in the area and who knows how many yet to be reported, people will still have some cleaning up to do for many coming days.

My Lord, please help the people of Georgia who were affected so badly by this storm. Thank you to getting my husband home to his loving family, warm food, and bed.


  1. Wow. So glad we never get snow. I can't stand the stuff.

    1. We get it very seldom, which makes it special and beautiful, but it always shuts down the entire area. Ice is the major problem with any winter storm here because the ground is warmer so it melts it and then the freezing air freezes it again. I prefer a dry snow like this one as freezing rain is far, far worse for this area.

  2. What a nightmare! We must have learned our lesson from you all. It's a nice sunny, windless day today, but schools have already planned to close and government offices will be closed tomorrow due to incoming storm (starting tomorrow morning).

    1. I get that the city and state have limited resources because this happens so seldom, but then it makes more sense that they should err on the side of caution because of that fact. I hope everyone there stays safe and warm.


Thank you fellow travelers for walking and talking with me along this journey.