On the Road

Snow Happens

January 30, 2014

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Sitting here in my cozy home office it's easy to chuckle at Atlanta's winter woes. As of Wednesday afternoon, Day 2 of the Storm Crisis of 2014, enough folks have survived the ordeal to start the finger pointing -- led of course by mainstream media outlets like CNN. I just watched a video of anchor Carol Costello attacking Atlanta Mayor, Kasim Reed, for the city's troubles. Give me a break. It's winter folks. Snow happens.

For us northerners -- I live close to Buffalo, N.Y. -- winter is a fact of life. We learned to cope with it at a young age. Kids get a day off school, grownups get out of a day's work with a little less tap dancing than usual, we think twice about venturing out in the car ... Life goes on.

For folks in southern climes, like Atlanta, Birmingham, Baton Rouge etc., snowstorms of any magnitude are rare and therefore the locals should not be expected to simply suck it up like we do and carry on.

There's some debate at the moment surrounding the weather forecast that predicted the storm. The Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, is on record saying the forecast had called for a "dusting" of snow, not the three inches the city received. That's Deal's get out of jail free card.

For northerners, three inches is a dusting. Ask people in Minnesota how much a "snowfall" is and they'll start in the double digits.

Three inches of snow would barely slow down a city like Cleveland, Chicago or Montreal.
Three inches of snow would barely slow down a city like Cleveland, Chicago or Montreal.

Folks are asking why city officials didn't warn them to stay home, keep the kids home from school, lay in supplies for a winter siege, etc. 

How much was dumped on Atlanta is neither the Mayor's fault nor the Governor's. You can't even really blame the meteorologists -- though Mayor Reed told Costello that God had a hand in it. He's probably closer to the truth than his critics. If my experience is anything to go on, the weather people are almost always wrong. Sometimes, I think the best equipment investment they could make would be an office window. There's so much at play in weather forecasting that close is the best they can hope for.

So as a southerner, with no snow tires on the car, limited winter driving experience, and a lot of other people in close proximity in the same situation, when should you concede defeat and stay home as a safe alternative?

Mayor Reed told CNN's Costello that the biggest problem was that everybody got the bright idea to head home from ground zero at about the same time of day, jamming the city's already crowded streets with thousands of spun-out cars and trucks. He said the city was out plowing and sanding the main arteries around town, while pointing out that the Interstates were Governor Deal's responsibility. I was surprised to learn that Atlanta has, according to Reed, "30 spreaders, 40 snowplows and 70,000 tons of sand and gravel versus just four pieces of equipment three years ago."

Had it not snowed this year, his critics would be howling over the cost of such useless equipment when kids are going without lunches at school, but that another story. I guess the storm of 2011 put the fear of Willard Scott into them.

Frankly, 70 pieces of snow removal equipment in a city the size of Atlanta is bows and arrows against the lightening, but Atlanta is Atlanta, not Chicago -- where much more equipment is available because snow is considered normal this time of the year.

Listening to Reed's explanation of his actions in the face of Costello's spitting and hissing, I thought the city handled it as well as might be expected. Reed said officials could have tried to stagger the let-out times so as not to cause an instant crush on the highways, but I doubt that would have helped. Who listens to city officials anyway?

It also occurred to me that residents of the city seemed to think they had every right to expect life to go on as if nothing had happened and that somehow people like Mayor Reed and his staff were expected to keep a major metropolitan center functioning as if it was a balmy summer day.

Tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires and the like slow us down a little. They represent a clear and present danger and most acknowledge that. But a dusting of snow? I have a BMW 4x4 and a smartphone; how could a little snow hurt me?

I remember a cartoon from MAD magazine back in the 'seventies. It was about frustration. The example was "Frustration is ... buying the best set of snow tires money can buy, but then getting stuck behind somebody who didn't." That's what happened to Atlanta, and Birmingham and Baton Rouge ...

Some people were prepared, the vast majority were not -- and that's okay, last time I checked, Atlanta isn't exactly in a snow belt.

When the going gets tough, the smart ones head for a truckstop.
When the going gets tough, the smart ones head for a truckstop.

A lot of trucks are still tied up in the south as I write this. Gazillions of dollars in inventory are sitting on the side of the road somewhere or snowbound in a truck stop. Some are upside down in ditches too, regrettably. We don't have a lot of respect for weather any more, believing that, with all our hi-tech forecasting tools and traction control systems and all-season tires, somehow we can beat Mother Nature at her own game. Incidents like the massive pile up on I-94 near Michigan City the previous week and the aftermath in Atlanta this week should make us think twice about how serious a snowstorm can be -- even if it's only a "dusting."

It's 10 degrees here at the moment, and the wind is howling, as it has done for much of this month. Snow is drifting in over the roof of my car and the driveway will need clearing, again, this evening. Am I going anywhere? Not on your life, and I have snow tires and tons of winter driving experience. I have a case of beer in the fridge, a can of coffee in the cupboard and plenty of food in the fridge. If I had a kid in school, she'd be home today.

If I was out in a truck on a day like today, I'd likely be parked somewhere. While I trust my abilities to handle a truck in bad weather, I know that today I'd be competing with more than the elements. It's those other folks I can't trust -- the ones with the smartphone apps that forecast weather and provide road conditions, and the 4x4s with traction control systems and anti-lock brakes and the all-season radial tires that make them think they are bullet proof. They aren't.

Winter weather, like hurricanes and tornados and the like, is to be taken seriously, especially in places that aren't used to it.

Here's a link to the January 29 Costello/Reed exchange on CNN, the day after three inches of snow brought Atlanta to its knees.


  1. 1. Mimi2008 [ January 31, 2014 @ 02:31AM ]

    Thank you for this article. Living in Atlanta, I am so tired of all the "dumb southern drivers" bit by other writers and readers. Most people in Atlanta aren't even from the south anymore. As for the CNN interview, I found Ms. Costello to very disrespectful to the mayor. It was uncomfortable to watch, and she totally lost her cool. Your take on the situation was right on.

  2. 2. Alamo [ January 31, 2014 @ 03:14AM ]

    Amen to that Jim. Well said. BTW how does a multi truck pile up ( Michigan City) happen? Don't drivers communicate and drive defensively anymore? I'm retired from the long haul, but back in the day if one truck wrecked the drivers behind did their best to warn others and slow traffic , not hammer down into hell. It was rare to see more than two commercial vehicles involved in a single wreck when I was driving, now it is common place to read of multiple truckers piled on top of each other.

  3. 3. Dennis Poteet [ January 31, 2014 @ 05:08AM ]

    you hit the nail on the head, keep it up

  4. 4. GlennMcDee [ January 31, 2014 @ 05:41AM ]

    I completely agree with your perspective and enjoyed the entertaining story. Worst part of winter is driving in the snow and ice. And you learn to stock the larder and hunker down.

  5. 5. cummingcommuter [ January 31, 2014 @ 04:49PM ]

    Thank you for hitting the nail on the head. I am from Tennessee which isn't exactly a Snowbelt, but we do see snow several times a year. Just moved to Atlanta six months ago... My vehicle is AWD with new tires. I had absolutely no problem with the icy hills. A handful of drivers that couldn't climb the hills(big rigs included) bottlenecked tens of thousands of drivers behind then. Their tires spun and spun futility. Took me 11 hours to get home.

  6. 6. JPO [ February 03, 2014 @ 11:44AM ]

    Sightly surprise to see that Montréal Qc is now part of Cleaveland and/or Chicago. Bus stop sign is that route 300 which is the Pine Ave circuit. And yes, we do get caught with our pants down, usually when the first one comes around. So, I guess you can't wrong Altlanta since they do not get snowed in very often. The removal cost for a double digit snow storm in Montréal will fall between 25 to 30 million dollars.


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Author Bio

Jim Park

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Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.


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