SnowedOut Atlanta and the Blame Game

January 30, 2014 11:43 am

by Tim Darnell · 31 comments

::bumped::

The snow had hardly settled Tuesday night before the SnowedOut Atlanta blame game had begun.

Now, it’s in full swing.

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The mayor (see above) is to blame for thousands of people getting stranded on your local streets.

Gov. Nathan Deal is to blame for not planning far enough in advance to have DOT crews out, salting the interstates.

Schools are to blame for sending kids home too late in the day, stranding them on school buses on gridlocked-highways or forcing them to spend the night at the school gym.

Businesses are to blame for not sending their employees home sooner. Or sending them home when everyone else was going home and the school buses were trying to get the kids home.

The National Weather Service and your favorite meteorologist are to blame for not predicting that the storm would hit farther north of the Gnat Line.

But what about the issue of personal responsibility when it comes to making the decision to drop what you’re doing, get your family safe and get home?

I’m not saying that the eight-month pregnant woman stranded for 14 hours on Langford Parkway was to blame for her predicament. Nor am I blaming a good friend for a nine-hour trek that only succeeded in his car winding up in a ditch. And I have nothing but heartfelt condolences for the hundreds of kids whose first night away from home was in a school gym.

But we all knew this was coming as early as 5 pm on Sunday, when the National Weather Service first issued a winter storm watch. By Monday night, everyone knew that at least an inch of snow was on the way. 

And everyone knows what happens when snow and ice hit metro Atlanta. It’s a national joke. (Besides, I thought all of these transplanted northerners and Chicago-ans knew how to drive in this stuff …)

We certainly haven’t heard the last of this. On Wednesday night, Georgia Democratic Party chairman DuBose Porter told All News 106.7 that Deal “got caught with his britches down.” State Sen. Jason Carter is bound to mention this once or twice or a couple of hundred times between now and November 4.

But I’d like to hear if anyone can specifically say what they would have differently if they were in charge, instead of playing the blame game.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

peachpundit (@peachpundit) January 30, 2014 at 6:30 am

New post: SnowedOut Atlanta and the Blame Game http://t.co/cCxcHmH1Jv #gapol

Max Power January 30, 2014 at 7:25 am

You mean the protect the politicians games? Seriously this was not that hard. When the NWS changed the forecast declare a state of emergency and begin presalting the interstates and arterials. If my 1:00 we were in gridlock order a halt to all semi traffic and have them pull off on to the left shoulder restrict passenger travel to the two right lanes and order a lane clear for emergency traffic. Resalt that lane and shift passenger travel one lane and repeat. Here’s what I wouldn’t have done, tweet about honoring Kasim Reed when thousands of people had already been stuck in their cars for hours.
https://twitter.com/GovernorDeal/status/428257618738434049

Michael Silver January 30, 2014 at 8:00 am

If I was king:

1) Trucks – Close Georgia or the affected area to all trucks going in. Any trucks on the roads within the area should be chained. This is common practice in Colorado.

2) Weather predictions – There needs a be an advisory service run by the PRIVATE SECTOR like the meteorologists at the TV and Radio stations to give the decision makers advice about impeding weather and whether to close schools. Government meteorologists and the global warming fraudsters within the University System are not qualified for the task as they are agenda driven, not real life driven.

3) Border Line Days – When the risk of bad weather exists but is not certain enough to close schools, have government employees that can work from home do so and ask private businesses to allow their employees to do the same.

4) Tow Trucks With Chains – have tow trucks with chains available to clear the lanes immediately.

5) Cameras – The 511ga cameras were a life saver for my wife. I could check road conditions and see how they are. The cameras need to be installed in many more places.

6) 5111Ga – that app is great. It needs to have an option where nearby shelters are listed. Id bet people would have abandoned their journey if they knew where they could find shelter.

7) Reconvert the military MRAP’s Law Enforcement has been acquiring to rescue vehicles. Then get volunteers who will go out and rescue people from their cars and take them to shelter.

8) After every event, a list of the worst bottlenecks should be created. Those bottlenecks should be the area where DOT focuses FIRST. The bridges first routine is a response by lazy and unimaginative maroons.

Michael Silver January 30, 2014 at 8:30 am

9) When the SHTF, the schools need to have the supplies and staffing to support kids staying overnight. Forcing parents to leave safe shelters to journey to school to pick up kids is counter productive. Neither the parents or students need to be on the roads as they are in safe locations.

Scott65 January 30, 2014 at 3:21 pm

If I was King, I’d have millions of dollars, be somewhere tropical, and not for a second think about what was happening in Atlanta…if you wanna be real.

Mid Georgia Retiree January 30, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Shutting down semi-truck traffic is a lot easier said than done. Not sure it could have been accomplished in such a short time.

Tim Darnell (@TimDarnellATL) January 30, 2014 at 8:17 am

The #SnowedOutAtlanta blame game has begun. http://t.co/Cz9NO5hXCo

John Konop January 30, 2014 at 8:24 am

My wife is still in a hotel, my daughter was stuck on a school bus for a while, I was in traffic for 5 hours…..and I live 10 minutes from home when this hit…..The truth is traffic is an issue without what happen…..Weather like this I have never seen in the 14 years I have been here. It is very difficult to set up policy around exceptions…..my management team put an emergency plan together and we faced issues…..ie cell phones unable to get connection via massive use, ability for people to get home, landline issues via the storm……

I do think all should learn from this…..obviously mistakes were made….but it seems some people would rather point fingers, politicians play politics……..over us solving the problem….the problems starts with us dealing with transportation…..this crisis shows why we need to deal with the issue….

Btw I was amazed by the numerous volunteer neighbors that helped…..Thank you!

saltycracker January 30, 2014 at 8:39 am

A little sand/salt/mix on state roads/interstates at our area hills/ bridges starting Tuesday AM when they supposedly saw it coming ?

Charlie January 30, 2014 at 9:11 am

This keeps coming up as if it wasn’t being done. It was.

We have limited capacity to salt/sand roads, so you can’t get them all. But the ones you get don’t stay treated. The salt/sand only lasts a couple of hours. Once the roads gridlock (a traffic problem, not a snow problem) you can’t get them retreated.

Continuing to ask “where were the salt trucks?” isn’t helpful, as after 3:00 it didn’t/wouldn’t matter if every road in N GA had been pre treated.

Max Power January 30, 2014 at 9:25 am

Charlie, this keeps coming up because there’s zero evidence that the GDOT pretreated the roads. Those of us who were out driving Tuesday morning saw no evidence of pre salting, none of the tell-tale grit that marks a DOT salt/sand operation. The only thing I’ve seen supporting the idea of pre salting/sanding is some statements from GDOT officials which quite frankly at this point isn’t good enough.

And they didn’t have to do every road in N. Ga, if they had done the bridges and hills on the interstates that would have gone a long way toward alleviating the problems we experienced.

John Konop January 30, 2014 at 9:39 am

Max,

In all due respect the core issue is transportation is screwed up in metro Atlanta….We have to many cars via lack of alternatives…had this happened in Dfw they have a rail system that would of helped a lot….unless we deal with core transportation issues we are just fingerpointing….many of the biggest screamers want nothing to do with fixing transportation……

Finally we all take risk…..people could of had snow tired, emergency kits, not went to work….,but many of us do not via this being an exception…..The state, city…..could also have spent a ton of money on preventive measures….but than people would yell why are wife spending all this money on an exception…..

Max Power January 30, 2014 at 9:45 am

Oh I agree, as I posted in the earlier thread I was stuck in snow jam back in the 80s and this was worse because we’ve added a lot more people and little more infrastructure. But that doesn’t change the fact that GDOT and GEMA simply dropped the ball. Heads should roll, when you have the GEMA spokesperson saying that traffic wasn’t bad at 3:00 he’s either lying, drunk, or incompetent, all three are firing offenses. Once again there needs to be a serious post-mortem of this event but it won’t happen because it might embarrass Deal in an election year.

Three Jack January 30, 2014 at 3:02 pm

John, I don’t DFW is an example we should follow. I was there a few years ago when there was a major snow/ice storm during Super Bowl week. The city shut down, much worse than what we just experienced in this town.

Scott65 January 30, 2014 at 3:27 pm

just an fyi…usually snow events in Atlanta occur very close to the freezing mark. We were looking at snow onset at around 26 and dropping. Salt starts to become less effective as the temperature drops.

Scott65 January 30, 2014 at 3:24 pm

I submit that I was on a pretreated Cheshire Br Rd, Piedmont Rd, and Lenox Rd between 10 and 11am. So to say it did not occurr is being misinformed. Maybe not where YOU were, but it was done in some places

saltycracker January 30, 2014 at 11:10 am

Would settle for a little evidence of a spotty DOT attempt on heavy use state roads like 92 or 140 between Fulton and Cherokee Co. Lots of folks can appreciate just a sign of effort….then we can blame individual drivers using no common sense or bad luck….

David Staples January 30, 2014 at 11:33 am

Yes, it was being done, but not to the extent that it should have been. Lance Lamberton wrote an e-mail to Faye DiMassimo this morning and cc’ed a bunch of other people. Here’s a clip from Faye’s response just now:

“As you mention, much of the media coverage throughout the region has been critical of government’s response to the storm. Cobb DOT initiated the placement of salt and sand on our roadways around 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday. By the time our crews and equipment were loaded and fully active, traffic congestion made the treatment of the roadways difficult and in some cases, impossible.”

They initiated the placement of salt and sand on roadways at 11 am? The warning was issued at 3:38 am by the National Weather Service. The snow had pretty much already started by 11 am. That’s not pre-treatment in my book. (Granted Cobb DOT isn’t GDOT, but they all share responsibility for different parts of our road network.)

She continues that they didn’t really have any intention of pre-treating:

“Pre-treatment of roads in the south is usually not done for several reasons. Chemical solutions used have a shelf life that often would expire due to the length of time between such events and typical advance notice of weather events does not allow for procuring it on the spot. Brine mixtures have certain equipment and preparation requirements that also may prevent timely pre-treatment especially for broad application. Additionally, if the event begins with precipitation such as rain or sleet, the solution is washed away and rendered ineffective. Nonetheless, as described above we did initiate road treatment in a timely manner based upon our protocols. This included having material positioned in key locations in the County for efficient delivery as well as full crew staffing of our equipment including spreaders (not equipment typically used by contractors). Contractors may offer motor graders which may be used when there is a greater amount of accumulation.”

Interesting.

saltycracker January 30, 2014 at 8:25 am

Maybe a timely implementation of the Georgia DOT winter preparedness plan ?
Visit their website and review the multi-million dollar plan…..
When did they know and what did they do ?

http://www.newsradio1290wtks.com/articles/news-and-traffic-354613/georgia-dot-winter-weather-preparedness-20132014-12010911/

Max Power January 30, 2014 at 8:38 am

By the way there may be a real scandal here and like so many things it’s the coverup that’s the thing. At least two GDOT officials were on TV yesterday claiming that they had pretreated roads including 285. Having driven 285 Tuesday morning before it all went to hell, I can tell you there was zero evidence of pretreatment, at least between New Northside and Paces Ferry which happens to have been the scene of some of the worst traffic. In the earlier thread a PP reader who lives near a DOT salt pile reported no activity. GDOT screwed up, they know it, and now their covering their butts. But it’s an election year and the Governor is up for reelection so I put the chances of getting a real investigation into this mess at 0%.

Rick Day January 30, 2014 at 9:12 am

But Tim what would you have us do? When a politician throws their religion out on their lapel or ad copy, there is an assumption they are ‘special leadership’ ‘blessed by supernatural powers’ to ‘always do the right thing.’ They ‘pray’ for ‘guidance and wisdom.’

So yes, the simpler minded voter is going to typically blame everyone but themselves. This is the pretty picture of The Special Blessings Bestowed upon Our Leaders™ that have been painted for us over 20 election cycles. The people expect miracles. That is what they have been taught.

So. Where is your god now, mayors? Do you admit you do not have any special affiliation with the Almighty, except when it suits your need of the moment?

Will anyone in leadership step up and said “I asked God to help, but God would not listen.”

Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Never was there a more appropriate description for the vitriol spilt toward Fearless Leaders. I’m sure G-d lost more than a few fans on the interstate. How many hours can one hold the Faith before the bladder starts leaking?

Oh right, God was too busy to be answering prayers. Too busy; He had ice to lay.

Mike Stucka January 30, 2014 at 10:30 am

The storm seems to be a litmus test. Some people want to blame GDOT, the governor, personal responsibility, urban sprawl, transportation funding, … We see what we want, perhaps.

I should say, I went through something very similar about five years ago in Boston, which is a place not noted for a lack of equipment or experience.

My pet issues, all of which are cheap:
– Science rocks. When the politicians get together and say no one knew this was coming, they’re flat-out wrong. The forecasts were solid. Were the right people not listening? That is, did the decision-making kinds of folks not listen to the forecasters? Not listen to advisers? I’m talking not just about the governor and some mayors, but school superintendents and major employers and minor employers. In most jobs, if my boss says I’ve got to come in today, I’ve got to come in today or get fired.

– Wait-until-the-last-minute. Everyone wants a competitive advantage, right? No one wants to pay good money for no work. If you’re a school superintendent and you’re looking at test scores, or an office manager with 40 people underneath you, you want to keep people in their seats as long as possible to make the most of the time you have. So everyone got dumped on the roads at the same time, and lo-and-behold, big traffic jam. (This is exactly what happened that day in Boston — the snow was maybe maybe coming down an inch or two an hour, but everyone was let out when the flakes started falling.)

– Personal responsibility. No, you can’t control the weather. But it’s not going to hurt to keep your cell phone charged, leave a little food and water in your car, make sure your tires are good, read your owner’s manual to know how to drive in the snow. This won’t solve everything, and of course no one expects to spend 17 hours with a baby like that. But if you’re waiting for the last minute to keep that competitive edge (as above), be ready.

Charlie January 30, 2014 at 11:20 am
John Konop January 30, 2014 at 12:12 pm

Good post…..all should read……

Doug Deal January 30, 2014 at 11:50 am

I lived in the North half my life and have seen my share of storms. They are not predictable in any way, especially when close to the snow/rain line. A drop of a single degree can change harmless cold rain into freezing rain, which is 1,000 times more dangerous than snow.

In the North, they have entire departments dedicated to handling winter conditions and even small cities have more plows and salt/sand spreaders than the entire city of Atlanta. It is expensive to keep snow at bay, but in the north there are so many snow events the expense of an intensive snow removal system is justified.

In Atlanta, there is one major snow storm every 3-4 years. There is no cost justification for full scale snow removal equipment beyond a skeleton crew to handle the major arteries and to handle urgent need.

The answer is to stay the hell home. Unfortunately, the mentality in Atlanta is one in which those that make a decisions to stay home when snow is threatened is to attack their commitment to their jobs. Neal Boortz was a big name here for decades and every snow storm he would preach that companies should fire people who stay home when bad weather threatens to the cheers and support of his rabid listenership. Of course the fact that he spent much of his time in Florida was lost on those people.

When you create a climate where staying off the roads is punished and careers are threatened because missing one day of work every three years is considered a flaw in character, people will take to the roads. When people complain that their babysitter, I mean schools, shut down, and OH MY GOD, INCONVENIENCED them as a precaution, administrators are hesitant to close the schools.

If Governor Deal (no relation) had ordered a state of emergency and the snow didn’t fall he would have been ridiculed for “ruining our day” and costing businesses money. It is a no win situation and is a big reason why few competent people want to serve in government.

It is easy to come in and Monday morning quarterbacking every natural disaster, but in the end it was the choice of 1,000s of office mangers and school administrators who made the choice that risking the lives of their employees and students was more important than closing for a single day.

Maybe in the future people will use more caution.

Jon Lester January 30, 2014 at 12:00 pm

A good idea for Paul Broun would be to stop any and all talk of further cutting National Weather Service funding.

Chris Huttman January 30, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Maybe a good question to ask is why earlier in the month was school cancelled in advance due to extreme low temperatures but not cancelled in advance with this storm coming?

Charlie January 30, 2014 at 2:54 pm

I am told (but have not verified) that schools now use a chart that weighs bus stop temperature with percentage of children in poverty/on free lunch. It’s assumed that these kids won’t have proper warm clothing to wait for a bus or walk to school, and thus extreme low temps will close a lot of systems to keep the kids out of the cold. Each system supposedly has a trigger temp that closes the school even in dry weather.

If anyone can verify, I would appreciate it.

John Vestal January 30, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Don’t know anything about those formulas/charts, but I can say that the combination of single-digit temps and fleets of diesel buses that don’t have the facilities/equipment to keep engines and fuel lines warm is un-good.

Ellynn January 30, 2014 at 12:37 pm

This is based on my experiance of Milwauke and Chicago, plus what they do in Wisconsin in general. Besides normal and forcasted snow, both cities also have lake effect snow, which can drop 3 inches or more an hour in their dwontown area without a warning. I’m not saying this system is better or if this is needed in state and ATL metro, but it adds some contrast.

1. Who controls what. Milwauke is just a city that is in one county. The MKE metro has about 8 counties ,over 30 major cities, smaller towns and villages, and nearly 40 public and private school systems school systems (it’s a Catholic thing). They all have one thing in common, 4 interstates, plus a couple dozen federal and state highyways link them . All road related dissions for these systems are made jointly by the State patrol and DOT. That way you have safety behind a desision, not politic. The mayor of Milwauke can not order assets from German town moved from one end of US 41. He has to ask a non apointed State Patrol administator in his district and they tell him if he can have them. Same with the governor by the way, although they most likely will have to expain why.

2. Salt is old school pretreat. It’s great for when the roads start freezing and until after the weather clears, but not before. It’s only going to become watered down and either evaporate or soak into the creaks of the black top, doing no one any good. The high end pretreats are premixed organic chemical compounds. I can always tell if a truck is carrying a good pre-treat, it’s pink (beet juice, salt and something ending ‘hol’). The stuff is expensive. Like 5 times more then salt per ton. Gravel is very cheep in this state. I have never seen gravel used in any state north of the Ohio River either. The ALT metro has no reason not to keep the good stuff on hand.

3. What other govements own salt trucks and plows? I keep hearing about the GDOT equipment. Do the northern counties that have intestates and the loop running through them have equipment? The larger cities? They know traffic will get heavy on the side roads if the interestats are clogged. What do they do? Maybe they need to add a few more if they do have them. There is some snow or ice in those areas almost every year. Other goverment agancies need equipment besides GDOT.

4. I keep hearing the State say their resources in the south were not able to be move closer to the northern areas like normal. Thank God they didn’t head up. I can tell you a GDOT truck did a loop from Thunderbolt to Little Tybee and a different truck ran the Talamege bridge to I-16/516 route to Memorial (level 1 trama) 36 hours straight. No way could they have moved the 30 trucks in the southeast GDOT district the take care of 27 counties. Nor should they rely on doing so. Maybe pulling the district trucks up after their areas are clear to help do spot clearing is reasonable, but every ditrict needs to maintain their own fleet.

5. Their are reasons the the states with the highest tax rates are mainly in the north. In 2010 Wisconsin spent 13 % of their budget on winter weather related items. Counties averged about 20 %. Be it labor, trucks, salt, winterizing state/county owned assets, cold weather recue units, ice boats, DNR related items for maintaining frozen-lake roads and snow machine and ski paths, some one had to cover the cost. This is the price of doing business and mantaining safety in that state. Being able to empty the Atlanta metro in bad weather is the price of doing business in this one. The counties and cities need to buck up and pay for it.

6. The state GDOT needs to issue out axle limits. Chicago does this. Like ATL, CHI is a transportation hub. It’s the large train transfer point, second largest airport, second largest UPS and USPS transfer points, more then 4 major interest that cross through it and a working port. It’s metro area also covers two states. When the weather starts getting bad, they start issuing restrictions on the number of axles per vehical allowed on the interstates. Not only does this limit Semis, but the idits pulling huge commerical units. Most trailers over 12 feet have two axles. You limit the system to 3, and only cars, heavy trucks, busses and small pulled units can go through. The trick is controling the access. Chicago has tolls, and they can just stop the truck access. They also have huge tickets for truckers who are not clear with in 2 hours of the shut down on the non tolled areas. There are places the trucks can safely park to ride out the order with in the tolled area. and along the state high ways. Plus I have never seen a semi with chains on outside the rocky mountains sections of the western states. Never seen a chain on a tow truck either. Seen spiked wheels on a tow truck, but that truck did on lake recoveries, not open road.

Just a few things I have experianced or noticed.

Three Jack January 30, 2014 at 3:15 pm

After listening to the latest presser with the governor and his hand picked bureaucrats, it is obvious Deal totally dropped the ball.
1. Severe weather warning issued 3-4am, governor gets up “early” at 7:30 or 8. But his staff was already on the job.
2. A leader leads, the governor is not a leader thus he is incapable of leading. It’s fine to throw the GEMA exec under a bus during the presser, but don’t say the buck stops with you as you drive the bus. Over the past 48 hours, it has become abundantly clear that this governor has no formal communication protocol in case of emergency.
3. The awards luncheon at noon, nuff said.
4. Upon realization that the storm might present problems (sometime Tuesday afternoon long after most of us knew there were serious issues), the governor finally got around to issuing a state of emergency. Later that evening after it was way too late to do anything, the governor suggested those stuck on the roads find a ‘warm stopping spot’ to spend the night.

Governor Deal cannot predict the weather any better than the rest of us. But a true leader plans for the worst while hoping the plan is never needed. This governor along with his team of bureaucrats had a ‘practice run’ just 2 years ago that should have provided ample opportunity to plan for a similar storm. Obviously those lessons were forgotten as this storm barreled down on Metro Atlanta.