Sunday, February 16, 2014

Frostbitten, Twice Shy

Georgia was better prepared for second slate of abnormally intense winter weather, but residents still say the state has much to improve regarding emergency preparedness and responses.

By: James Swift

When forecasters predicted “cataclysmic” ice and snow late last week, this time, the residents of Atlanta and its suburban communities knew better.

After two inches of snow -- an atypically heavy amount for the region -- virtually shut down Georgia’s capital city late last month, both officials and residents took great strides to avoid the same disastrous miscalculations that paralyzed the state’s roadways in January. While the midweek freeze that encapsulated much of northwest Georgia did not result in the same high volume traffic, fender benders and stranded motorists, the state’s much less eventful second bout with aberrantly harsh wintry conditions could most likely be attributed to improved preventative measures, on behalf of state agencies and individual motorists alike.

Whereas Georgia’s highways and byways were jam-packed with vehicles  -- many commandeered by residents leaving work midday or heading to pick up their children at school -- during last month’s snowfall, the roads of Atlanta and its surrounding counties were largely devoid of traffic when the wintry weather was at its worst on Wednesday. The slushy and icy roadways, while perhaps more navigable than during the first go-around, were left largely untested by Georgians, many of whom remained at home instead of venturing out into the fresh sleet and powder.

That’s not to say the wintry weather did not impact state residents, however, as Georgia Power estimates for the number of customers experiencing electricity outages hovered between 150,000 customers to nearly 200,000 throughout much of Wednesday. An additional overnight dusting heaped yet another layer of snow on metro-Atlanta and central Georgia, with around 350,000 customers waking up Thursday morning sans electricity.

While many schools and business proactively shuttered their doors in anticipation of the inclement weather, some Georgians did indeed brave the ice storms earlier this week for work, travel and even the occasional diner meal. Although many residents believe the most recent snowstorm was better handled by the state, quite a few also felt as if Georgian officials could do more to better prepare for future inclement conditions.

“This particular storm, I think they did real good,” said Susan May, a 53-year-old waitress. “But I think they just learned a recent lesson.”

Interstate 75, usually home to some of the nation's densest rush-hour traffic, was left a barren highway during Atlanta's latest bout of atypically harsh winter conditions. 

Precautions taken by motorists and state officials, May said, kept the state’s roads less cluttered than during January’s snowstorm. “They waited until the weather was already here, and everybody did what they were going to do at the same time,” she described last month’s fiasco. “You’ve got a whole lot of people in Atlanta. You put all of them on the expressway at the same time, and nothing was going to happen?”

Dustin Hunter, 22, agreed that the state handled this week’s situation much better than in January. “Maybe it’s an overreaction, but it’s better than last time, an under-reaction,” he said. “People were on the roads for 24 hours.”

Maya Hublikar, also 22, similarly believes officials were better prepared. “They just told everybody to not get on the roads, and even shut down highways,“ she said. “No cars are stranded, it’s a lot more organized.”

However, both Hunter and Hublikar also feel as if the state could take greater measures to respond to comparable weather crises in the future.

“I know a few years ago when this happened, we only had, what was it, four snow plows?” Hunter stated. “We don’t get a lot of it down here, so people really don’t know what to do.”

“If they just loaded up more salt trucks, that would be better,” said Hublikar.

Despite the sudden two-hit combination, many Georgians say their general ways of life haven’t changed since the recent snow and ice storms, however.

Having grown up outside the confines of Dixieland, Hublikar said the wintry weather down south doesn’t bother her that much. “Up north, this kind of weather would be typical,” she said. “I know how to drive in snow, but they just stay inside down here.”

Even with last month's icy calamity in mind, Hunter said he has largely stalled on plans to take preventative measures against wintry weather.

“I would like to say I have a preparedness kit in my car or something like that and know how to react in situations,” he said. “But those are just thoughts, ‘I’ll do it one day, not now.’”

And demonstrating the pluck of many Southerners, May said the heavy snowfall, while aberrational, has yet to throw off her daily patterns.

“I live in Georgia, we’re not supposed to have a whole bunch of this,” May concluded. “[But] I already leave my faucets running, and I’ve got an all-wheel drive car.”

Uncommon Journalism, 2014.

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