Winter weather is commonly hard to predict. However, when mother nature does strike, people often become critical of or displeased with their local and state governments for their response to snow, ice and other similar weather conditions. Whether one’s disapproval is warranted can be disputed based on the circumstances.
When a winter storm impacted Georgia along with other parts of the southeast earlier this year on Jan. 28 and 29, it quickly became clear that the state and many of the municipal and local governments within it, were not prepared for the weather conditions. Freezing rain and just two inches of snow began to fall in the early afternoon hours, and when the storm started, an instant gridlock formed on Atlanta area roads and highways as everyone attempted to make a mad dash home at once. The storm appeared to take the Atlanta area and many southern cities by surprise. In a short span of time, thousands of people left their jobs, non-essential government employees were sent home, and all the area schools released their students early as everyone made an attempt to reach arrive home before the storm intensified.
Unfortunately, with all those people taking to the roads at the same time during an ice and snow storm in a region that was not accustomed to winter weather, accidents quickly began to take place and gridlock ensued. To make matters worse, snow removal vehicles were not on standby and most highways and roads in the Atlanta area were not pretreated with salt, sand or special chemicals to help prevent ice and snow accumulation. The result was numerous car accidents and thousands of drivers becoming stranded on icy roads near Atlanta and throughout Georgia for hours on end.
According to CNN and other news reports, some drivers found themselves stuck in their cars for nearly 24 hours while others were forced to abandon their vehicles and walk in search of a safe shelter or a way to get home. In Georgia and across the South, churches, grocery stores, hardware stores, and good Samaritans opened their doors to those who were stranded in the storm.
Tim Doughery became stranded on a Georgia highway in the storm for over a day. He told NBC News, “I’ve never seen anything like this. What took me 30 minutes yesterday morning took me 26 hours to get back.” Stories like this were common throughout Georgia and other states in the South. I would argue a situation like this could have been prevented and should never have occurred after only two inches of snow.
First, area schools should have been cancelled and non-essential government employees should have been notified to not come in to work the morning the storm began as this would have kept many vehicles off the roads and thus resulted in significantly less congestion. Second, some local and state governments in the South, such as the city of Atlanta, failed to take the weather forecasts seriously and act on them by making appropriate preparations by pretreating roads, deploying snowplows, and warning drivers to remain off the roads if possible.
To be fair, equipment for removing snow and ice and clearing roads was limited in most southern states because large winter storms were rare in this region of the country. It was clear this lack of resources contributed to the unsatisfactory response to this weather event. State and local authorities initially refused to take the blame for the chaos on the roads and the dangerous conditions stranded drivers had to face by first blaming incorrect weather predictions and then jackknifed 18-wheelers. This is simply laughable.
Forecasts, for once, were actually spot-on while jackknifed 18-wheeler accidents caused by the storm were extremely limited. Moreover, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had several testy comments to reporters about his city’s response to the winter storm and they struck me as arrogant and complacent.
According to NBC News, when one reporter asked the mayor to grade how his city responded to the storm and who was responsible for clearing the roads, Reed replied, “I’m not going to do this with you today.” He then added that the interstates were the responsibility of the state, not the city of Atlanta.
If you reside in the region, I’m sure you would agree with me when I say it feels as if it has snowed more than it usually does this winter season. Because Shepherdstown is not a major metropolis like Atlanta, a similar situation of thousands of stranded drivers is unlikely to occur in this immediate area and, for the most part, the state of West Virginia and local governments, such as the Corporation of Shepherdstown, have adequate resources and experience to help deal with winter storms. Nonetheless, no matter where you reside, snow, cold, and other winter weather always present problems and dangers, especially on the roads. It is critical to remain off the roads until they are passable when severe winter storms strike in order to avoid any chance of being stranded or involved in an accident. Play it safe when it snows and use some common sense.