If schools, governments and businesses had (1) been closed Tuesday or (2) all the schools, governments and businesses had not closed at about the same time, dumping tens of thousands of vehicles on the roads, then the problems would not have been of epic proportions.
Gov. Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed made the second point over and over again in trying to explain how the worst snow mess in memory occurred. They have been scorched in the national media for not getting the meteorologists’ warnings about the looming winter storm and closing down their governments earlier — before people went to work.
The governor said at a news conference, “We don’t want to be accused of crying wolf.” If the snow had been as light as what he last heard from forecasters, he said, “We would have shut a major city down for a day.” And what he didn’t say was, “Imagine what a laughingstock I would have been for closing the city for a few snow flurries, not to mention the political fallout this election year.”
Hindsight is really good. That’s why the governor or somebody on his staff or somewhere in state government might have done a better job of contingency planning in view of the supposed lessons learned from the last snow storm in 2011. Atlanta did buy more equipment and got prepared, according to the mayor, but it didn’t make any difference early enough Tuesday because just about everyone that had a car got on the road and clogged traffic in all directions. The governor said state equipment was sent to Atlanta’s south where the brunt of the snowfall was expected but, again, if it had been available it probably would have been in the same fix as the city’s.
A CNN report made the point: “There’s no easy answer for who’s to blame. Rather, it was a perfect storm — pun intended — of factors that created the commute of nightmares.” And USA Today observed: “This might simply be Atlanta’s fate in winter storms.”
Even so, it does seem that good contingency planning would have bridges and inclines on the interstates, major roadways and city streets treated with anti-icing mixtures in advance of snow or ice falling. As for closing schools, businesses and governments, somebody in charge will have to take a chance on being wrong. On that point, schools can adjust their schedules and governments can stay open with a small number of employees. Ditto for businesses. Lessons learned — again?
The snow gridlock couldn’t have been worse timing for Mayor Reed. Along with Deal and other bigwigs, including Cobb Chairman Tim Lee, Reed was at a luncheon honoring him as Georgia Trend magazine’s “Georgian of the Year.” The headline on the Trend story said: “Atlanta’s Kasim Reed has redefined what it means to lead the state’s capital city.” In an interview for the article, Reed said, “I think people feel like the city is moving again.”