FROZEN : The 2014 Atlanta Ice Emergency : A Preparedness Tale
No doubt you have heard about a small weather situation that has unfolded across the Deep South over the last 24+ hours or so. What looked like a winter storm that would bring some frozen precipitation to the region as it skirted along the gulf coast and southern third of the eastern seaboard wiggled to the north just a bit and exploded into a nightmare, worst case scenario and the “fun” began. Everything came together in a pure symphony of suck to unleash stress, fear and danger on the South’s hospitable population.
Despite the best efforts of our local leadership to convince everyone they had learned the lessons from the 2011 Snowpocalypse that shut down the city of Atlanta for the better part of a week and that all of the appropriate adjustments had been made, this weather event….a full three years hence….laid bare these very dangerous truths:
*There were government failures at every level to assess the threat and properly deploy assets in advance of the storm
*Poor decisions by Georgia DOT resulted in a failure to sufficiently treat roadways prior to the weather event
*Poor transportation infrastructure that has elevated ramps, bridges and inclines everywhere exacerbate any inclement weather issue
Now, some 36 hours later, it is clear that the hard lessons taught in the 2011 storm were not learned by this local and state government at all. Even with new plans in place and some new equipment at their disposal, the end result was not better in 2014 than it was in 2011. In fact, in many ways, it was worse.
All of the key players were telling us right up until the snow started to fall that there were plans in place and that this time things would be better. “Don’t worry about anything, John Q. We’ve got it covered. Everything will be fine.” More trucks. New plans. And, by the way, everyone just ‘stay off the roads’. Well, it quickly became apparent that the only way any of these extra trucks or new plans were going to make any difference at all was if everyone actually did stay off the roads. And that would be impossible. Wait, did I mention that there were no closures of government offices or metro schools in advance of the storm? No? And what about the fact that businesses certainly were not shuttering for the day? No? Oh, well then. Here’s the best part. The same people that were telling everyone to stay off the roads…remember that’s the underlying key to the entire plan…those same people issued a statement just before the inclement weather began telling everyone to get out of downtown, leave work now and go home. In other words, just as the storm was kicking up it was like they said “Everyone! Get on the roads riiiiiiiiiiiight…NOW!”
And that’s when the apocalypse porn visuals started streaming out of Atlanta.
Unlike the decision makers for the state of Georgia and the city of Atlanta, I, my wife, all my friends and virtually everyone with a weather app on their smart phone or an internet connection or a television or radio knew that the city of Atlanta was going to get hit with about two inches of snow with some ice thrown in for good measure. It didn’t take a meteorologist (by the way, my cousin is a meteorologist and works at The Weather Channel) to figure this one out, folks. So, with this info in my back pocket I set out to get a plan to deal with the issues that I believed were sure to arise since I was scheduled to head to work for an evening shift (in the center of downtown Atlanta) Tuesday afternoon right as the storm was getting started.
I have a 45 mile commute to work, so I don’t leave the house without a plan on a perfectly normal day and the gear to fit it. But when there’s a 100% chance of accumulating winter precipitation in a city where that don’t usually happen, you better believe I am coming prepared and loaded for bear. So, I headed into work with everything I would need to spend the night rather than taking the risk of getting back out on what I was quite certain would be a skating rink in the wee hours of the morning. Of course I had my Every Day Carry (EDC) with me and my Get Home Bag (GHB) in the back of my vehicle as I always do, but on this day I also loaded up the sleep gear I take when I go camping, about three times the normal amount of food I would carry on my person and I tossed my BOLT kit in the back of the truck just to cover all the bases.
So I hit the road with the flakes a-flyin’ and sure enough, a ride that usually takes me about 50 minutes took three hours. During my travels, I watched as the major interstates and surface streets were already glazing over with ice. I dodged travelers that were spinning out left and right as I made my way to work finally headed inside to watch the frozen drama unfold.
During the evening, I had several coworkers decide to take their chances with the weather and try for home. Around 7 pm, a friend that travels a route similar to mine decided to strike out for home. Five hours later, he called in to let us know he was sitting on I-85 northbound (only about 15 miles from our building) stuck in traffic and that he hadn’t moved at all in about three hours. He had no food, no water, no blankets or anything to keep warm with him in the vehicle and no hope of moving any time soon. Right about now I was feeling awful for my pal, but pretty good about my preparations and my plan to stay put.
At the end of my shift, I posted the following status update on Facebook to let my family and friends know what was going on with me:
Ah, weekend. Hello again old friend. I can’t wait to get home and….oh, that’s right. I can’t go anywhere. I’m encased in ice and miles from home. Very thankful right now to know that the homestead is safe and secure in all ways even though I can’t be there. ***A thought, a HUGE thanks to Gov. Nathan Deal, Mayor Kasim Reed and GA DOT for doing such a bang up job in shirking responsibility in this situation and making it worse in virtually every way. Claiming they didn’t know or that they were caught flat footed by this weather? Really? I certainly am not naive or gullible enough to swallow that load of horse puckey. Epic failure. You learned nothing from 2011.*** Anyways, tomorrow brings the sun (even with tough temps) and that presents my next opportunity to get home. Take care all.
I walked out to my vehicle and grabbed my gear for the evening. Even from street level, I could see the city was absolutely crystallized in ice. I paired up with a couple of my coworkers that had also decided to say and we settled in for the night, watching television in astonishment as thousands of people were sitting in vehicles on seemingly every major roadway surrounding the city with zero chance of going anywhere any time soon. Not to mention all of the children around the city and across the region that were stuck in schools where they would have to spend the night or on the roads in buses that would not be heading home on this bitter night. That part was unimaginable.
Upon waking we learned, that the roads were still locked up with some people now approaching 25+ hours stranded in their vehicles. Parents with young children, stuck on the road with no food and no water. How does that happen? I can’t imagine being in that scenario on a perfect day, much less one that everyone should have known was going to turn out like this one had. People running out of gas, ditching vehicles and being forced to walk to safe havens just to escape the brutal weather only to end up sleeping in the aisles of a grocery or convenience store. On the bright side, we did learn that our friend that had been stuck on I-85 had finally made it home safely around 5 am that morning. When I checked my phone for the first time I saw that my wife had posted this status update on Facebook:
Anyone that was stranded in Atlanta’s epic fail of 2014, I hope you will be able to make it home soon. If you aren’t prepared to take care of yourself you are s.o.l. because no one is coming to help you. That seems to be the lesson learned by Atlanta on this day. Don’t laugh at people who prep, they plan for the worst & hope for the best. The worst happened in Atlanta yesterday. Be prepared people!
What can I say? That’s awesome.
Even in this awful situation there were some bright spots that make me very proud of the people that live and work in the great state of Georgia and of humanity in general. Stories of people walking right down the middle of six lane interstates that were eerily at a standstill handing out water and food to those people that had been stranded for hours, travelers helping one another to get vehicles unstuck and moving once again and even the glorious news of a child named Grace being born in a stranded vehicle that was stuck in traffic on the perimeter.
After packing all my gear and checking to see if I could help any of my coworkers, I headed for home. Because I’m fortunate enough to have people near and far that care about me and pray for my safety that knew I was getting underway, I shared the following status update when I arrived home:
So, this January’s weather experience has come to a gratifying end for me. I left work at 11:30 this morning and rolled into the house about 12:30 pm, which is really pretty good. Upon arrival I found the homestead warm and welcoming with my loving wife and two adoring pups thrilled to see me, a roaring fire and a pot of hot coffee beckoning. Last night was as good as it could be given the situation and the company certainly didn’t hurt. The best part of this story is that I didn’t spend one moment in fret or worry, either for myself or Alice because we had taken the time to plan for the worst eventualities and made the appropriate preparations ahead of the emergency. Although the weather forced us to be apart, she knew I would be okay and I knew that she would be safe, warm and happy. All of this thanks to a little foresight and taking the action steps necessary to insure such an outcome. Thanks to everyone that offered thoughts or voiced support and wishes of well being. I appreciate each and every one those actions and each and every one of you.
For the second time in a handful of years the city of Atlanta and my beloved home state of Georgia have been in the nation’s spotlight thanks to paralysis due to a winter weather emergency. So much danger, human distress and property damage on display for the world to see, and it really saddens me. It makes me sad because I know that so much of it can be avoided altogether with just a little planning and forethought, both on an individual and a governmental scale. These people don’t have to suffer like they have. All of these lives don’t have to be put at risk. These situations could be mostly prevented if only there were better overall planning put in place by those that are supposed to lead and each individual made their personal security during the situations their top priority. On the other side of the coin, my experience was safe, warm and as comfortable as it could have possibly been.
There were those behind the power curve with no plan and no preparations that found themselves caught up in the chaos because they were waiting on someone else to tell them what to do, and then you have the example I try to live out where you get a plan, build a kit to fit and execute a plan of action to the best of your ability based on sound information you have gleaned ahead of time. Which one would you choose?
It really is so easy to take the necessary steps and get this done so that you and your family won’t be caught in the whirlwind the next time it blows. Here’s hoping you will choose to do so.