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Atlanta Gambled With Winter Storm and Lost 723

Posted by timothy
from the snowball's-chance dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Kim Severson reports at the NYT that by keeping schools and government offices open, and by not requiring tractor-trailers to use chains or stay out of the city's core, metropolitan Atlanta gambled and lost. "We don't want to be accused of crying wolf," said Gov. Nathan Deal, who pointed out that the storm had been forecast to just brush the south side of the city. If the city had been closed and the storm had been as light as some forecasters had told him it was going to be, he said, money would have been lost, and people would have complained. Tuesday's snowfall, that brought only 2-3 inches of snow to most of the Atlanta metro area, and the hundreds of thousands of motorists who flooded the metropolitan area's roadways as the storm moved in — created travel nightmares for commuters, truckers, students and their families. Some commuters were stuck in their vehicles up to 18 hours after they first hit the roads. Others abandoned their cars in or beside the road. Hundreds of students spent the night at school. Some surrounding cities, including Hiram, Woodstock, Sandy Springs and Acworth, opened emergency shelters for stranded motorists. "It's an easy joke made by Northerners," wrote Joe Sterling and Sarah Aarthun. "A dusting of snow shuts down an entire city and hapless drivers white-knuckle their way through a handful of flurries." Further North streets are salted well in advance of a coming storm but Atlanta doesn't have the capacity for that kind of treatment. "We simply have never purchased the amount of equipment necessary," said meteorologist Chad Myers adding Atlanta had plenty of warning. "Why would you in a city that gets one snow event every three years? Why would you buy 500 snowplows and salt trucks and have them sit around for 1,000 days, waiting for the next event?""
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Atlanta Gambled With Winter Storm and Lost

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  • by ThisIsAnonymous (1146121) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @09:57AM (#46109157)
    I live here in Atlanta. I work from home and I convinced my wife to stay at home (she's 7 months pregnant). So we didn't have to deal with the mess. One thing I would note though, there were probably 3 times in the last month where we were told we would have snow and it never happened. I think that might have made people feel like this was another false threat.
  • Salted in advance? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 30, 2014 @09:57AM (#46109161)

    Come on, I have lived in North Dakota and Minnesota my whole life, and I have never seen pre-emptive salting. Heck, most places up here don't even use salt because it doesn't do anything beneficial when temperatures are 0F and lower for weeks at a time.

    The only answer is to get comfortable driving in wet conditions, and then be more careful. I drove through two winters with summer tires because I was too lazy to change them, and I still had little issue starting, stopping, and turning on icy roads. People who only drive on dry pavement become complacent about paying attention to the way their vehicle is balanced.

  • Re:Full retard (Score:4, Informative)

    by NapalmV (1934294) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:00AM (#46109189)
    It means nothing. Recommended reading here:
  • by lophophore (4087) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:04AM (#46109227) Homepage

    The NWS nailed it. They described exactly what was going to happen.

    The travesty was that **everybody** ignored the Winter Storm Warning that was issued in plenty of time to cancel school, make other arrangements for work. That was compounded with a situation where the roads went from dry to impassible in one hour, and then 5 million people all tried to drive home at once.


  • by hamjudo (64140) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:04AM (#46109237) Homepage Journal
    Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal Calls Winter Storm That Snarled Atlanta 'Unexpected.' Really? []

    This wouldn't be so embarrassing if the weather service would just delete all that old incriminating information.

  • by Major Blud (789630) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:07AM (#46109269) Homepage

    The comments sections on quite a few sites were filled with degrading comments for us "sutherns" freakin' out about 2 inches of snow. There are a few things I'd like to point out before this thread fills with the same stuff:

    1) I'm in Louisiana. I can count the times it's snowed like this on one hand in my 36 years here. We don't get much of a chance to practice winter driving.

    2) We're simply not equipped to deal with the snow. We don't have snow plows or salting/sanding machines. Yes, I still feel that purchasing this type of equipment is a waste of taxpayer money to prepare for an event that happens maybe for one day every 5 years at the most. Do you see Rhode Island spending money on earthquake proof buildings for example?

    3) It was more of a problem with ice than snow. The roads had started to form a pretty thick layer of ice on Monday morning (I know because I had to drive through it).

    That said, here in Louisiana roads and schools were closed starting on Monday afternoon. I'm not sure what Atlanta was thinking to wait until Tuesday to do this, but like the article says, there could have been uproar if they cried wolf.

  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:10AM (#46109295)

    Note that we got pretty much the same warning in the NOLA area. Out local governments decided to cancel schools for the whole day, since, while the weather was supposed to be fine in the morning, by the time the kids had to go home, it was going to be a nightmare.

    Sure enough, it was a fine morning, but by mid-afternoon (when the kids would normally be coming home by bus) the freezing rain had started and the roads were getting increasingly unsafe (there are a LOT of elevated roadways here, what with the bayous and all, so freezing rain is a more serious problem here than it might be in other places).

    And things stayed shutdown through Wednesday.

    Of course, it's Thursday now, and temps are expected to be in the 50's today (and 70's by Saturday)....

  • Re:Pffft (Score:5, Informative)

    by Megane (129182) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:20AM (#46109415) Homepage

    you fucking shut your city down when the forecast calls for 2 inches

    "We don't want to be accused of crying wolf," said Gov. Nathan Deal, who pointed out that the storm had been forecast to just brush the south side of the city.

    That was part of the problem. The forecast didn't call for 2 inches, it predicted that the ice/snow would miss Atlanta, though not by much.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:21AM (#46109427) Homepage

    " We're simply not equipped to deal with the snow. We don't have snow plows or salting/sanding machines. "

    I have 6 feet of snow in my front yard right now, the roads have been CAKED in 6 inches of hard packed ice and snow for weeks and Salt doesn't work at 3 degrees F. and I can easily drive the 45 miles to work and back every day in a minivan that has crap all season tires, new ones but crappy cheap bottom of the barrel tires.

    One thing I know about the south is that you guys are happy to drive around on worn out bald tires, I work regularly in the south Huntsville, NOLA, etc and you guys think that buying tires is a sin. Get real tires and you too can drive on ice and snow easily that is 4X of the worst you got this year.

    It is the drivers and their lack of driving ability. I've been to Atlanta many times, they barely know how to stay in their own lane let alone understand what those speed limit signs mean. I am thinking in the south a speed limit sign means that is as slow as you can go, and you should try to drive at 100mph 5 inches from the guy in front of you. And that is why when it get's slippery they all crash.

  • by mpercy (1085347) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:22AM (#46109439)

    Several things seemed to make this event different from similar snowfall events that I've seen here in the last 20 years or so.

    When snowfall occurs here it is usually a passing cold front event in an otherwise seasonable temperature period with daytime temps in the 40's or high 30's. So when snow falls, it pretty much melts in the streets until after 5PM or so when the temps start to drop. This time, we had several days of very cold weather preceding the snowfall and it was as if the streets' thermal mass had already been depleted. Snow hitting the streets initially melted but started to freeze into ice sheets quickly, more quickly than usual. By about 1PM many streets, especially surface streets with plenty of shade, were already covered with a thick ice sheet.

    Atlanta has lots of creeks and small rivers with bridges. Atlanta is also quite a hilly place. Bridges ice before the main road, and bridges here are often at the bottom of a hill in both directions. So all the bridges and all the low-lying areas at the bottom of hills froze first. Many cars could not make it up the icy slope. Even minor slopes on surface streets especially became impassible due to the ice. Again, all this happened much earlier in the day than people have come to expect.

    I live 4.5 miles from work, normally an 8-12 minute commute. I left my office at 12:45PM and it took me 2.5 hours and I had to use multiple alternative routes as I encountered several places where bridges and low-lying areas were impossible to get through. Luckily I know multiple routes home and was able to mentally plot the flattest route home and wind my way through interconnected neighborhoods. Even still, I used the GPS to avoid the dead ends that are common in neighborhoods. A co-worker left 15 minutes after I did, and 4.5 hours later made it as far as my house--he stopped for a bathroom break and made it home a full 12 hours after he left. My brother-in law left downtown at 2:30PM, two hours later managed to pick up his wife who works 1 mile away from where he works. At 8:30PM we used the computer traffic reports and google maps to get them off the interstate through neighborhoods, and by 1:30AM they had made it to our house. We figure it was another 8 hours to their house. Good thing he had taken his 4-wheel drive "hunting pickup" to work that morning.

    Everyone started leaving offices after about 12PM-3PM, which normally would have been plenty soon but by then it was already too late on too many surface streets, so even the main roads which had been pre-treated and the interstates which have enough traffic to provide hot exhaust and tire friction heat to keep lanes open backed up--people exiting onto surface streets had no where to go.

    Businesses and schools took a chance, given that the forecast had called for the snowfall to be south of the city. With much of the population in metro-ATL actually being north of the city, to forecast made many people in north metro-ATL figure there would be no real problem.

    Schools in particular did everyone a disservice by staying open, then announcing early dismissals at 12:30PM or so. So tens of thousands of overwrought mommies and daddies jumped on the roads at the same time to make sure their precious offspring didn't have to risk a bus ride.

    Also, the cell phone system was overloaded. So many people stuck in their cars for so long panicking chewed up all the bandwidth.

  • Re:Canadian driving (Score:4, Informative)

    by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:31AM (#46109565) Homepage Journal

    You don't need new tires every winter. They easy last 5 or more. Nd you should get 4 for far below $400.

  • Re:Pffft (Score:5, Informative)

    by TWiTfan (2887093) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:43AM (#46109759)

    The problem in Atlanta isn't just the snow. It was the fact that they let everyone out to go home all at once. Ever been in rush hour traffic in Atlanta? Even without snow and ice, it's a fucking nightmare. That city has some of the worst rush hour traffic I've ever seen, even compared to L.A. Add to that icy/snowy roads that haven't seen even a hint of salt, a generally incompetent/corrupt city government, etc. and you can understand why it turned into a disaster.

  • by judoguy (534886) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:43AM (#46109765) Homepage

    I lived in Atlanta for 8 years and now in Minneapolis for 23. Believe me, Atlanta and the other Southern cities I grew up in are much harder to drive in with a winter event of any size.

    Here in Minneapolis, each and every year, the first 2" snow and everyone acts like they've never seen the shit before. Unbelievable commute tie ups and panic reigns. I was surprised at how much easier it was to get around in the winter when I first got here. Not because the drivers are better, but because of how dry it is in the winter. In the South, winter means wet ice. Driving on -10F snow is much easier.

  • by mpercy (1085347) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:47AM (#46109813)

    Saw many people helping push stuck vehicles at least to get them off the road if nothing else. Saw just as many people screwing over the pushers by driving around the vehicle being pushed and then getting stuck themselves now in front of the original vehicle. So the pushers have to move forward to help this asshole before they can help the original person. And the process repeats!

    After I managed to make it home (2.5 hrs to go 4.6 miles), I went outside and started try to help. I had some bags of sand left in my garden from a previous project and hauled those out to the road by my house as people were spinning their wheels there. I spread the sand over the closest patches of ice where I saw people stuck. Almost everyone rolled down their windows and said thank you, even though it meant they could move only about 20 yards further up the road. But one guy, who had to see me spreading sand in front of and under the 4 or 5 cars in front of him, as soon as I got done with the car in front of him and it pulled forward he immediately pulled forward and nearly clipped me *as* *I* *was* *spreading* *sand* to help him!

    Out of sand, I started helping neighbors and other drivers push some vehicles. One lady was practically crying as she rolled down her window "Thank you thank you thank you". Most people a smart enough to roll down their window and take the advice we're giving them --"Cut you wheels over here toward the curb, there's some traction there." One guy *stayed* *on* *his* *phone* the entire time we were trying to help him and didn't do anything we asked him to do. Idiot.

  • Re:Pffft (Score:3, Informative)

    by Wookact (2804191) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:51AM (#46109877)
    That is not true either. The NOAA released a warning at 3 am saying it was going to hit Atlanta. The snow did not hit until noonish. The city either knew or should have know they should prepare the plows and salt trucks and start pretreating the roads. They then could have eased much of the burden by canceling school and having government workers stay home.
  • Re:Pffft (Score:5, Informative)

    by biometrizilla (1999728) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @10:55AM (#46109925)
  • by sjbe (173966) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @11:04AM (#46110043)

    You think that never happens up north? That's par for the course much of the time. Folks down south (and yes I've lived there) have this notion that temperatures in the northern states go down to somewhere around the freezing point of nitrogen and stay there until April. Doesn't really work like that. The difference is that we have appropriate and adequate snow removal equipment and we are accustomed to dealing with snow and ice. I grew up in the heaviest part of the snow belt [] along Lake Erie and I didn't have a single snow day in four years of high school despite annual snowfall of between 60-80 inches per year. When I lived down south the only snow removal tool they had was a calendar.

  • Re:Pffft (Score:5, Informative)

    by c0d3g33k (102699) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @11:07AM (#46110081)

    you fucking shut your city down when the forecast calls for 2 inches

    "We don't want to be accused of crying wolf," said Gov. Nathan Deal, who pointed out that the storm had been forecast to just brush the south side of the city.

    That was part of the problem. The forecast didn't call for 2 inches, it predicted that the ice/snow would miss Atlanta, though not by much.

    Not true. *Early* forecasts suggested that, but subsequent updates by the National Weather Service *did* call for several inches of snow, and *did* include metro Atlanta in the impacted area, well in advance of the actual storm (by early Monday morning). There was plenty of time to prepare, had officials been paying more attention to the forecasts and less to the political impact of "crying wolf".

    From The Weather Channel [] (emphasis mine):

    Sunday 3:12 p.m.

            First winter storm watch issued for Tuesday morning through Wednesday afternoon.
            Includes south metro Atlanta counties Fayette, Coweta, Clayton, Henry, Rockdale into central Georgia.
            Impacts: Snow accumulations of two or more inches. Sleet accumulations of a half inch or more.

    Monday 4:54 a.m.

            Winter storm watch now includes much of north and south metro Atlanta for Tuesday morning through Wednesday afternoon.
            Impacts: Snow accumulations of 1/2 to 2 inches. Snow-covered roads could make travel difficult.

    Monday 3:22 p.m.

            Winter storm watch upgraded to a winter storm warning for south metro Atlanta into central Georgia. Winter storm watch remains posted for north metro Atlanta for Tuesday morning through Wednesday afternoon.
            Impacts: Snow accumulations of 1 to 2 inches with locally higher amounts. Sleet accumulations around a half inch. Snow and ice covered roads will make travel difficult or impossible.

    Monday 9:36 p.m.

            Winter storm watch changed to a winter weather advisory for north metro Atlanta for Tuesday morning through Wednesday morning.
            National weather service notes: Please understand that even a slight shift in the moisture could result in significant differences in snow amounts and may require an upgrade to warning.

    Tuesday 3:38 a.m.

            All metro Atlanta under a winter storm warning starting 9 a.m. Tuesday
            Impacts: 1 to 2 inches of snow. Snow expected to begin mid-morning and last into Tuesday night. Snow-covered roads will make for hazardous driving conditions through Wednesday morning.

  • Re:Pffft (Score:5, Informative)

    by c0d3g33k (102699) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @11:16AM (#46110185)

    Here's another timeline that's even more interesting because it interleaves the NWS advisories with the actions of various government/municipal entities and school officials:

    Winter Storm 2014 Timeline (from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 30, 2014 @11:17AM (#46110201)

    Atlanta's excuses are pathetic and laughable. The governor shows some really weak logical abilities. Limit traffic into the city and lose money...yeah, some will complain OR Let people become stranded on the roadways and all traffic into the city get blocked...many more will get much more angry. I know which path I would take.

    I grew up in suburbs of Jackson, MS. Ever since the big Ice Storms of the early 1990s, Jackson and all surrounding municipalities salt the high-volume roads whenever snow or an ice storm is predicted...even if it's predicted to be a light snow or ice storm...even if it's supposed to barely miss the Jackson area. If Jackson, MS can keep equipment and supplies around to do this, Atlanta can too.

    Also consider the recent severity of storms further north and the recent polar vortex. Atlanta's leadership is simply incompetent.

  • Lots of nonsense (Score:4, Informative)

    by onyxruby (118189) <> on Thursday January 30, 2014 @11:22AM (#46110259)

    I read story after story about how most people don't have 4 wheel drive, snow tires and they don't have salt for the roads. Most people from the north don't have 4 wheel drive and they don't have snow tires (all season are most common). The amounts of snow that shut down the south doesn't even justify putting salt down up north, it simply snows small amounts like that too often to justify it.

    Really, you don't need a 4x4 SUV with snow tires just to tackled a couple inches of snow. In fact a vehicle like that is more likely to lose control and roll over in the ditch. A regular 2wd car with all season tires is perfectly fine for typical winter driving in the north. If you can afford snow tires those are preferred, but hardly required. Applying more gas if your stuck will never get you out, it will just make you more stuck. Slowly rock your car out sideways and back and forth and you can free yourself most of the time.

    What you do need to do is remember to slow the hell down. You need a lot more stopping distance than normal. You also need a lot longer to start and if you pull into traffic like normal your going to get T-boned. When you do slow down do so before the curve and don't slam on your brakes. Most people lose control and spin out when they are braking. Try braking when you are in an isolated area to know how long it will take your car - not you - to respond.

    There is no excuse for that kind of thing other than people being reckless. If the conditions aren't familiar to you, than slow the hell down until you become familiar, it's that simple.

  • by Assmasher (456699) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @11:26AM (#46110295) Journal

    ...I remember both the county (Cherokee) and the City of Atlanta talking about this 3 years ago when another light snow storm shut everything down. There were lots of words and phrases like "we'll be prepared next time" and "this won't happen again", followed by a few weeks of local news articles about how millions of dollars had been spent on new road treatment equipment and trucks and how materials had been stockpiled so that they'd be "ready" the next time.

    I left my office at 5:15PM, luckily in a 4WD jeep, and got home (12 miles away) at 8:40 - and I gave quite a few people rides to various destinations who had already abandoned their cars (this one kid had walked from Southern Polytechnic to almost Wade Green [this is a long ways] without gloves and a light coat.) Mostly I ferried parents who had to walk to the local middle school/high school to pick up their kids when the schools shut down the buses (which was smart.) I went back out and got onto the local parking lot usually known and highway 92 to pick up some neighbors who were trying to walk home and eventually got back around 1:45AM - the roads at this time still PACKED with cars.

    It wasn't until 1:15PM when I was almost home with my last pickup that I FINALLY saw a snow plow truck driving around (like an a**hole by the way) and his plow was up and he wasn't dropping any sand or salt.

    It was the traffic nightmare from hell - and not only did the local governments utterly fail to plan for this event that everyone was aware of for days, they didn't react worth a sh** either.

    The good news from all of this is that I saw an amazing number of good Samaritans helping out anybody they possibly could. There were people on quads ferrying people around and having a good time doing it. There were clumps of people all walking from their abandoned cars laughing and making the best of it. On most of the side roads, people were coming out of their houses in neighborhoods to help people navigate the zombieland-like fields of abandoned cars. My favorite was this old couple on Hwy 92 that were simply walking through the traffic handing out bottles of water to people stuck there. They were walking hand in hand lugging the water behind them (it was very sweet.) I saw lots of frustration, but surprisingly no hostility towards other people.

  • by mpercy (1085347) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @11:37AM (#46110475)

    Any snowplow that might have been sent out would have quickly become mired in the traffic jam that coincided with the first few flakes.

    By the time there was anything to plow, the main roads were already deadlocked because the surface streets (which would have been plowed last anyway) were jammed due to traffic lights timed for mid-day rather than rush-hour operations and many many many iced-over low-lying areas that created car traps. Bridges over every minor creek sit at the bottom a tiny valley (it's up hill both ways!). These iced over almost immediately making it very difficult if not impossible to get through.

    Many people abandoned their cars in the middle of the road. By morning the next day, there were still miles of interstate with bumper-to-bumper semi trailers interspersed with a few cars.

    1000 plows would have done nothing. It was over (traffic wise) almost as soon as the first flakes of snow hit the ground. The hilly terrain combined with the below average temps for several days meant that roads, especially the various "feeder" surface roads, iced over almost immediately at least in the low-lying areas. Once a few cars failed to make it up some iced-over hill, that road was jammed. It took about 1 hour from the first few flakes before the traffic jam on surface streets backed up onto the interstates.

    Realizing that the bridges would be a chokepoint, I managed to get home by plotting the flattest route with fewest bridges I could think of using interconnecting neighborhood streets. Once I got off the feeder roads and the main arteries, I was only facing snow and ice and not 100's of jammed-up cars. Still, it took me 2.5 hours to drive less than 5 miles. I still ended up reversing a hundred yards or so when I came out of one neighborhood and could not cross the feeder road due to traffic. Was able to get to a different outlet and get across. I also parked once (in a church parking lot) and scouted ahead on foot.

    Fortunately, I was dressed appropriately, able and fully prepared to walk home should I have come to some point were I was stuck. I also had a fully-charged non-cellphone GPS that has pedestrian mode. Just in case.

    Not like people I saw walking later. One woman was still trying to walk in stiletto heels. Men in dress shoes could barely stand upright. One woman had shopping bags over her shoes to protect them I guess, but this of course made everything very slippery (seriously plastic bag on snow?).

  • Re:Pffft (Score:4, Informative)

    by AuMatar (183847) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @11:44AM (#46110557)

    I lived in Chicago for 14 years. That amount of snow was normal, and nobody even owned winter tires, much less put them on their car.

    The real problem here is that driving on ice and snow requires practice and skills that most people in Atlanta don't have. Then add in probably 0 plows to clear streets, and the result is chaos.

  • by jandrese (485) <> on Thursday January 30, 2014 @11:55AM (#46110709) Homepage Journal
    Also, stop and go traffic is the absolute worst for snowy roads. It's the stopping and starting that are the most difficult, especially on a hill. Maintaining an slow even speed is what you want. People in the north know that if you stop while going uphill on a snowy road, you may not be able to start again.
  • by couchslug (175151) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @12:12PM (#46110927)

    Quite right!
    Snowplows do get chewed up in the North, but they'd survive just fine in the South and last many, many years.
    Plow mounts could be swapped easily as generations of trucks are replaced. Both dump and garbage trucks already have hydraulic power takeoff systems so adding plows is is but mounting and plumbing.
    The bed modification shown in your pic is easy to retrofit at a cost of a few hundred dollars per truck, and easy to repair if it gets bashed. Local fab shops and possibly the DOT shops could spit them out easily.
    Spreaders can be purchased and fitted with quick-attach mounts.
    If it were my tasking I'd set aside warehouse space and have plows spreaders palletized on steel frames with forklift pockets for easy handling and maintenance. One or two forklifts could feed the gear to a line of trucks staged outdoors. Lift the gear, attach the gear to the truck, move to the next truck while hydraulic hookups and functional checks proceed. That's faster than storing them on the ground outdoors and would involve less wresting to connect if done right.
    When operations are complete, reverse the process, pressure wash and lube the gear on the pallets, then fork them back into the warehouse for the next adventure.
    Have each device carry a set of printed maintenance forms in an attached container as is done with military ground support equipment to facilitate easy review and entry of discrepancies. No need to invent a new system as the military has done it this way for decades and it works well.

  • Re:Pffft (Score:5, Informative)

    by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @12:21PM (#46111035)

    You don't have to make 100% accurate predictions to be able to prepare for the future. That's why weather forecasts give a probability of precipitation, rather than a binary rain/no rain prediction. If you know rain is likely, you can carry your umbrella just in case. The attitude should not be "You need to prove something bad will happen before I prepare for it," but rather "Let me know if something bad might happen so I can prepare for it."

    While you're right, I also think there is a more specific problem here. People are bad at making estimates based on probabilities -- "70% chance of rain? 30% chance of snow? Should I take action?"

    The thing is -- the National Weather Service tries its best to keep the guesswork out of major weather events by issuing watches, advisories, and warnings. When a winter storm WARNING is issued, it means that there's a general consensus that this thing WILL occur and you should behave as if it will.

    In this case, the NWS issued a winter storm warning at 3:38am on the day of the event, roughly 9 hours before snow started falling in Atlanta. Here's the official meaning of a winter storm watch and warning as put out by NWS in Atlanta:

    Watch: Issued when the potential exists for 2 inches or more of snow in 12 hours, or 4 inches or more of snow in 24 hours. Also issued for potential of a quarter inch or more of freezing rain, or half an inch of sleet. In the North Georgia Mountains, the criteria are 3 inches in 12 hours or 4 inches in 24 hours.

    Warning: Issued when a combination of snow, blowing snow, sleet, and/or freezing rain is likely to exceed warning criteria. Warning criteria are those detailed in the Winter Storm Watch.

    In other words, a "warning" means it's pretty darn likely the thing is coming. Having lived in the northern U.S. for many years, I can think of a few times that a "warning" didn't really pan out, but not very many. A "watch" (or an "advisory," which is an intermediate level of sorts) is one thing, and can sometimes be wrong. A "warning" is meant to convey reasonable certainty that a major weather event will happen.

    So, the average citizen doesn't need to necessarily concern himself/herself with probabilities -- these weather bulletins already contain significant information about how likely things are to happen.

    Most people probably don't pay attention to these weather distinctions -- they just think "oh, there's some sort of weather alert." But they generally have very precise meanings.

    For the general population to be ignorant of these meanings is perhaps expected. That's why governments and school officials need to understand these things and make reasonable calls -- but it appears they did not seem to know what "warning" meant in this case.

    That's the disturbing thing. The NWS had stuff out saying there would be "dangerous" road conditions and that travel was not recommended well in advance of the snow.

  • by Valdrax (32670) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @12:22PM (#46111061)

    Why? 2-3 inches here and the only things we do different are leave earlier and drive slower. No chains. No pre-salting the roads. Just slow the fuck down until the roads get plowed or melt.

    The problem was twofold: every single business and government agency let their people go home at the exact same time (roughly 12:30-1:00 PM). Even in good weather, this would have caused an hours long snarl in the city, but when you have masses of people struck with the sudden realization that if they don't leave now they may not be able to get up/down their driveways, then yeah, you get a complete traffic clusterf--k.

    The second problem was that we weren't dealing with whatever dainty light fairy powder you Northerners deal with in which you think a snowplow would help. We were dealing with sleet and slush. "Wintry mix," you hear it called on weather stations. By the time sundown hit, most of the roads were covered in a solid, eighth-inch think sheet of ice except for those parts kept warm and shielded by the constant gridlock over them.

    I know, because I was in it for 13 1/2 hours to only go 8.5 miles. There was no "drive slower" option for any of us on my route home, and I never passed a single accident on the way. We moved a car length every 2-3 minutes, and having to restart going uphill after dark meant that some people we sliding, because you need freaking *momentum* to drive uphill on ice. People were running out of gas and having to abandon cars. A lot of people were camping out in cars in parking lots or sheltering at stores that stayed open, like Home Depot.

    I have a roommate who had to walk home the next day, and his time revealed that I could have walked home, walked back to work, and walked home again with a half hour break in between each leg and still beaten myself home.

    So don't freaking patronize us. There's stuff that could have been done better in terms of planning by the city and in terms of more people keeping an eye on the weather (the midday snow took everyone at our office by surprise), but it wasn't a matter of just driving better. There was literally *nothing* many of us could have done from that angle. 99% of the people I saw drove sensibly. (Well, more like self-entitled jackasses who wouldn't spit on a man if he was on fire because it might make them thirsty, the way they refused let people over or tried to skip ahead using the middle lanes, but generally safely.)

  • by McGruber (1417641) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @12:44PM (#46111301)

    There are actually two Atlantas: (1) The City of Atlanta and (2) The Atlanta Metropolitan Area.

    The City of Atlanta has a population of 432,000 and its mayor is Kasim Reed. Reed is an up-and-coming politician in the Democratic Party; he has been on "Meet the Press" and other Sunday morning talk shows a lot. Reed looked very bad during the 2011 Snowstorm, so since then the City has purchased approximately 70 snowplows & salt trucks. It has also trained its crews to operate that equipment. City crews were out and about on Tuesday and City-owned arterial streets were pretty passable.

    The City of Atlanta also owns the Atlanta airport, so the City actually has weather forecasters on its payroll.

    The Atlanta metropolitian region that surrounds the City of Atlanta has a population of 4.5 million spread over 20 suburban counties and a couple dozen small cities. The majority of these suburbs are very Republican and are the base of voters that elected Governor Deal. For example, Cobb County, where the Atlanta Braves professional baseball team are planning to move to, is the home of former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The Suburban counties and cities have not invested in snowplows and instead rely of the statewide Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). GDOT does a really good job given what they have to work with -- they only have something like 120 snowplows for the *entire* state of Georgia. It never snows all over Georgia at once, so GDOT just moves its plows to where they are needed.

    The other complicating factor is that about 1.2 million of the 4.5 million suburbanites commute into the City of Atlanta every day.

    What happened Tuesday was the perfect clusterf---. About noon, all of the 1.2 million commuters all attempted to leave Atlanta at about the same time.... this was actually documented by the Georgia Navigator traffic system ( These commuters managed to leave the City of Atlanta because the City had treated its roads, but then they hit the Interstate highways and expressways that are plowed and sanded by the GDOT. .... GDOT simply could not keep up because GDOT's statewide crews were also being used elsewhere around the state. The roads clogged and then what GDOT snowplows and sanders that were out got stuck in that traffic.

  • Re:Full retard (Score:4, Informative)

    by demonlapin (527802) on Thursday January 30, 2014 @12:47PM (#46111335) Homepage Journal
    Cold ice is a drivable surface. Ice two degrees below freezing is not. The surface melts from tire contact.
  • Re:Pffft (Score:4, Informative)

    by geekoid (135745) < minus berry> on Thursday January 30, 2014 @01:12PM (#46111609) Homepage Journal

    Read and learn...or else!

    2.1 Characters, Case, and Punctuation for Narrative Text. Narrative text uses upper case and only the following punctuation marks in the text: the period (.); the three dot ellipsis (...); the forward slash (/); the dash (-); and the plus (+). Use of other characters may inhibit the proper dissemination or automated processing by certain users’ systems. []

    2 points:
    A) Who cares if it's in all caps?
    B) It's an international service, so it need to support many systems, several of which are older systems in poorer countries.

egrep -n '^[a-z].*\(' $ | sort -t':' +2.0