Thursday, February 6, 2014

Metro Atlanta Winter Storm 2014 ... and more

Last Thursday at this time, January 30th, 2014, snow was melting and, by then, most people were finally home.  It had only snowed 3 inches or so on Tuesday 28 January but the snow quickly melted into ice and with metro Atlanta automobile lifestyle it had turned into a transportation catastrophe.  All area schools and companies dismissed students and workers at the same time resulting in giant gridlocks.  Vehicles could not move or would slide off the roads and many abandoned their vehicles on emergency shoulders thus blocking first responders who were unable to get to accidents and snowplows were unable to spread sand and gravel.  The whole area was paralyzed and looked like a giant parking lot.  (Click on collages twice to enlarge.)

As I mentioned in my last post, we stayed home - we could not have driven on our road anyway.  We watched all the main channels on television reporting that thousands were stranded and cautioning all residents to stay home.  Children on school buses could not get home either; some went back to schools to sleep (as their parents could not get home) and others stayed in their buses overnight.  Many people did spend the night in their vehicles and others took shelter in grocery stores, drug stores, etc.  One thousand people slept in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel at Cumberland Mall, near Marietta.  By 9 pm the Georgia State Patrol had responded to 940 crashes and emergency number 911 had received 3,280 calls for help.  A lady was telling a reporter on TV via her cell phone that she had left her office at 3:15 pm on Tuesday, had arrived five miles away at the perimeter highway I-285 by 10:30 pm and eleven hours later, on Wednesday morning 9:30 am, her car had not moved one inch.  Another young lady spent 22 hours in her Ford Focus, too scared to leave her car.

The weather forecast had predicted some snow for Tuesday, January 28th, mostly for areas south of Atlanta.  It had not become a "warning" until 3:45 am that morning when most people were asleep.  The roadways quickly became covered with solid sheets of slick ice causing vehicles to crawl, slide, swing around or slam into each other.

Many people blamed Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for the city's lack of preparedness, but to be fair, the streets of Atlanta were quickly cleaned off and 1 million people left the city.  Three years ago the city had four pieces of equipment but now it has 30 spreaders, 40 snowplows and 70,000 tons of sand and gravel.  The traffic problems were on the interstate highways that are maintained by the State of Georgia, not by the mayor.  Many 18-wheeler trucks passing through the state jack-knifed and prevented other vehicles from moving, then also too many vehicles hit the road toward the suburbs at the same time.

The census of 2011 showed that the city of Atlanta has a total of only 420,003 people living inside the city limits.  When people say "Atlanta" they mean "Metro Atlanta" with 6.1 million people and a region that spreads over an area of 8,376 square miles (21,694 km2) - a land area comparable to the state of Massachusetts - Atlanta itself is about 10% of the metro area.  Metro Atlanta is the largest metropolitan area in the Southeast United States and comprises ten counties: Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale (that rarely cooperate with each other.)  This area has more than 16,000 miles of road (2nd highest number of miles per capita of any metro are in the nation.)  However, the public transportation system called Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) only serves two counties close to the center of Atlanta.  I saw a graphic in a July 2013 article that showed that Atlanta was the fastest growing and most sprawling metropolitan area in the US with traffic congestion rated in the top five of the country - and that is when the weather is fair.

There have been other bad snow and ice storms here.  When my husband received his Master's degree in Urban Land Use and Environmental Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, he was offered a position in Governor Jimmy Carter's administration.  We moved to Atlanta in early February 1973.  I remember seeing trees down, debris everywhere.  That January 1973 there had been an ice storm that closed roads, shut down businesses and schools for a week.  Nine years later, in January 1982, seven inches of snow fell across Atlanta, again immobilizing everyone.  I worked in the northwest area of Atlanta and could not get back home.  My husband who worked downtown at the State Capitol left his office around noon and did not reach our house until 3 am (a routine 45 minute drive then.)  There was no power for a week.  This storm was called Snowjam.  Below are some pictures of 1982 Snowjam (author unknown.)

Then eleven years later, in March 1993, another big storm paralyzed the metro area for days.  Some snow had been predicted but a foot fell thus forcing the closure of the interstates.  That day I had been driving back to Atlanta from Greenville, South Carolina, with a group of Algerian trainees from my work.  Once at their lodging I could not get back home (15 miles away.)  They kindly let me have one of their apartments for two nights.  Our daughters could not get back home either and stayed with friends.  This storm was called The Storm of the Century, or the Great Blizzard of 93.  Below is a photo of the blizzard courtesy Wikipedia.

In 2011, On January 14, I wrote a post "Atlanta snow in the New Year," click here to see it, describing the ice storm that had turned the metro Atlanta area into a skating rink for a week.  It had snowed, then rained, then turned very cold, and ice had formed over the snow.  It was very pretty - the snow looked like marshmallow cream, but it was dangerous to walk and drivers faced chaotic conditions on the road.  The State of Georgia spent about $2 million a day to clean up the storm and the City of Atlanta purchased additional snow removing equipment at that time.  Below are some of my pictures from that ice storm.

People here have a short memory.  The lack of public transportation and suburban sprawl add immensely to the traffic problems.  When we moved to Cobb County in 1976 we were hoping that the MARTA public transportation system would be extended to our county.  Only two counties voted for the system, ours declined.  The reason was mostly racism - they thought that it would make it easier for black people to move into the county.  This decision permanently altered the region toward making automobiles necessary to go anywhere and created more sprawl.  Metro Atlanta sprawls to 100 miles in diameter - or the size of Los Angeles with 1/3 of the population.  There are no sidewalks and very few bicycle lanes.  Developers prefer to clear-cut acres of forest (at a rate of 50 acres - 20 hectares- a day,) cover farm land with asphalt and bulldoze hills to build wealth segregated subdivisions rather than modernize areas in the city and build mixed-use housing there. There is no "smart growth" policy here compared to most cities in Europe.

MARTA serves only 500,000 out of a region of 6.1 million people.  The region's average commuter spends over one hour per day in an automobile to commute (one of the longest commute time in the nation.)  In the 1970s my husband and his staff had drawn up a regional plan for metro Atlanta including land use, environmental studies, green areas, transportation, etc.  When Jimmy Carter left for Washington for his presidency, the State of Georgia dissolved my husband's department, saying environmental concerns were not necessary and the regional plan was not implemented.  I don't think there is a working regional plan still.

In 2012 the Governor of Georgia (Republican) and the Atlanta Mayor (Democrat) joined forces to back a transportation ballot issue, called T-SPLOST, that would have provided the residents with alternatives to highway travel.  The measure was defeated by 67% of the voters (but supported by Atlanta citizens.)  The metro area has become very conservative and the Tea Party is strong - they reject any type of tax and always vote for smaller government ... but then blame the area government when the roads are gridlocked.  I thought I'd mention these details for the understanding of what is happening with traffic in Metro Atlanta and one of the main reasons for this new snowstorm fiasco, named Snowpocalypse 2014.  I'll end up with a quotation from Charlie Hales, the Mayor of Portland, Oregon, at a business meeting in September 2013: "Atlanta's a mess ... Sorry, but Atlanta's planned so poorly, it'll take generations to change the shape of the place."   Here below is looking at my road, down and up (no sidewalks) the day after the snow fell, January 29, 2014.

In my next post I'll show pictures I took in the snow.

32 comments:

Thérèse said...

Not bad indeed. Like a Snow Channel over the years. Such an interesting review.

Rubye Jack said...

Well yes, it looks like this is what happens when people don't support government funding for infrastructure. You would think a city the size of Atlanta would have good public transit. It's sad really.

Jeanne said...

Wow what great shots of this event, and also of the past big snowstorms! I have missed seeing you for awhile, probably me... but nice to see you! So glad that you were not out in that traffic jam, but sounds as though , having been through this once, your husband would have a very good plan to stay at home. Many years ago when I lived in Chicago and was a young student nurse, there was a huge snow storm there that paralyzed the city for days. The had trains that were carrying snow out of the city to the south to get rid of it. The freeway was jammed with abandoned cars. Sadly, I have no photos of this as i was busy trying to help staff the hospital and think I only had a brownie camera at the time. Nice to see you, and this is such an informative post!

ELFI said...

impressionnant!
la nature est plus fort..!

DJan said...

I worried about you when I saw the pictures of Atlanta, but then you said you stayed home. That 1993 storm sound WAY worse that what happened last week! Thanks for the great pictures and I look forward to seeing the ones you took. :-)

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

We all felt bad for you in the south. You are not used to such weather and I can understand why no one expected such a catastrophe.
Meanwhile, up north, we have been hit over and over again by all these storms. It has been non-stop. After this Tuesday's ice storm, many of us are just getting our power back and some won't until Sunday night. This has been a nightmare of a winter, and we all want to fly south.

Mae Travels said...

I wonder if the politicians who refuse all development of public service and infrastructure really hav this as their vision of the future, as what they are striving for. It seems to be the inevitable consequence, as you point out.

rosaria williams said...

Great reporting, Vagabonde. Much information and background to clarify our initial perceptions gotten through television. You are truly a motherlode of information.

David said...

Vagabonde, Great photos and photo captures! Atlanta metro was a mess, that's for sure. We don't even like driving through the area on our way south in good weather... Traffic is always terrible and slow but then again, so was Chicago's where we came from.

I liked the way Atlanta's mayor defended himself. He wasn't going to take a beating that he didn't deserve! I'm a moderate Republican but I certainly support intelligent and much needed infrastructure construction/revitalization. So many of our polticians are either short-sighted, too worried about re-election, or corrupt so nothing gets done! What happened to compromise??

Still, I wouldn't want rapid transit where we live...sidewalks either. That's why we retired here...to get far enough away from rampant development and city life!
We're about 40 minutes by car from good shopping in Knoxville...and that's close enough for us.

Your postings are always interesting... Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Friko said...

Shortsighted politicians and voters who want nothing to do with change, what a combination.

They probably still don’t believe in climate change.

Idiots!

Magic Love Crow said...

You are right, people do have bad memories! I saw this mess on the news and couldn't believe it! I agree, I don't think it was the mayor's fault! We have had our share of storms over the years too, and people always seem to complain! Get over it!!!

Sandi McBride said...

We had 4 inches of snow and even in our small communities we came to a standstill. It amazes people who are used to this type of weather that we get shell shocked with ice and snow...but for those of us who are used to wearing flip flops and shorts for 11 months of the year this is not a natural phenom is it? Love the photos...excellent!
Sandi

Frances said...

Vagabonde, you have definitely cast a lot of informative sunshine on what continues to leave greater Atlanta seemingly unable to cope with what are truly rather mild snowfalls.

(Of course your photographs of the recent snow's effect on your own neighborhood are lovely...as long as no one needs to get anywhere.)

I don't know if I could actually live in that area.

Our continuing 2014 snow adventures up here in NYC have certainly caused inconvenience and lots of cussing from residents, but...the city does continue to chug along. Public transport works pretty well under the challenge, and sidewalks are cleared.

I personally testify to the snow capabilities of my dear Dr Martin boots. They can take it, and take my feet and rest of me where we need to go...with the help of the subways.

xo

Jeanie said...

I thought about you during the news on the Atlanta storm. In some ways you were slammed more than us in the north in part because we are used to it. Wonderful photos and an interesting and thought-provoking overview.

Cergie said...

Il en est de même en Région Parisienne et d'autres régions se moquent de nous qui sommes bloqués par 5 cms de neige. Mais il est impossible de tout prévoir, d'être paré à tout et d'avoir le personnel et le matériel adéquat. Les gens ne seraient pas contents de payer de lourds impôts pour cela ! Ma fille habite en Région Rhône Alpes, près de Lyon, elle passe aux pneus-neige chaque hiver !
En ce moment nous sommes sous le vent et la pluie. Je suis allée en bord de Seine vendredi, elle est haute, mais à Conflans-Ste-Honorine les quais ne sont pas submergés. Ce n'est pas le cas en Bretagne et mon beau-frère dans le Var en a assez d'être inondé chaque année depuis trois ans.
Puisque vous avez la possibilité de rester chez vous, profitez du spectacle et du calme qui vous entoure. La neige permet tout un voyage en habillant le monde de son manteau blanc et en amortissant les bruits...

Retired English Teacher said...

This was so interesting. Of course, the story of those stuck in the snow and ice was in all the news, but we did not get the "backstory." You really helped me understand the magnitude of the problem.

Vicki Lane said...

We measure everything by the Blizzard of '93 -- no power for a week, roads impassable, and 8 young people home for Spring Break... ah, those were the days.

Pondside said...

Interesting history, Vagabonde.
I did feel very sorry for Atlantans in all of the events of last week.

Kay said...

We saw all the terrible conditions you were experiencing and felt awful for everyone. I know it's harder for the states that don't get these kinds of snowfalls. Chicago was sort of OK because they get hit all the time and are prepared.

EG CameraGirl said...

Lovely snow photos, but I NEVER think of snow when I think of Atlanta. :)

Funny how people want all the services that taxes pay for but don't want to pay taxes to get them. So many people just don't get "cause & effect."

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Brilliant post, so much information.

What a disaster!!

I lived in Houston during the late 70's oil boom. More than once I'd drive 200 miles from the oilfields in four hours and then spend four hours getting that last four miles because of congestion.

Planning counts. Bad weather in the southeast - what can you do?

Cloudia said...

Wonderful reporting and pics




ALOHA from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral

=^..^= <3

Abraham Lincoln said...

I enjoyed your many photos. I also watched TV and listened to it when Atlanta was snowed in.

Miss_Yves said...

Des images impressionnantes, sur le plan météorologique et du gigantisme automobile!

Ginnie said...

Don't even get me started, Vagabonde! But I must say that you have clearly stated the facts here and it's easy to read the writing on the wall for Atlanta. As we speak, you're in the midst of another ice-storm fiasco, which I hope does not pan out to be as bad as your last storm. But if it does, I do hope some of the tea-partiers will pay attention??!!

BTW, I very much remember the Blizzard of '93. It reminded me of Michigan as a child and I loved it. But then, I was not out driving.

Cynthia said...

Those of us Up North do sympathize with everyone this winter having the same weather related problems we have routinely every year, with fewer recesses to deal with them. It's not fun! I sure learned a lot from your post.

Nan and =^..^= said...

Thanks for visiting my blog!
You really captured what happened with that storm and I hope this next one isn't as bad. Stay safe!

Dee said...

Dear Vaganonde, thanks for giving us statistics and putting Atlanta and Metro Atlanta into perspective with regard to growth, population, density, etc. All this is news to me. The racism that has helped create some of this--those suburban communities--saddens me. Really, it makes me sick to my stomach.

Last night on the NBC national evening news, the meteorologist said that the snow/ice storm in the south, which was spreading from Texas across the southern states--La., Miss., Ala, Ga--and then up the Atlantic Seaboard--had the potential to be catastrophic. I hope you will post about this. Peace.

Linda said...

Your photos are lovely. It is often best to stay home (if one can) in severe weather.

Vicki Lane said...

It sounds as if things went a bit better the second time around in that more folks stayed home.

Even where I live, there used to be a passenger train that people could ride to the county seat or on into Asheville and beyond. Now there are no passenger trains at all in western NC, alas.

Perpetua said...

This was totally fascinating to someone from the other side of the Atlantic, Vagabonde, but also made my heart sink at the short-sightedness of politicians and citizens alike. Just wait until the oil starts to run out and car fuel becomes unaffordable for many and those subdivisions without public transport or even cycle lanes will really start to find life difficult.

Jeanne said...

Know this must have really been terrible. I can appreciate, living in Texas, that when there is a snow or icing of this nature, it is a killer, and the cities are not prepared at all, not are the drivers. Glad you are ok and hope no more weather like this!

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