Snowpocalypse!

The thing about Atlanta is, I will talk your ear off about how much I hate it. I hate the traffic, I hate the sprawl, I hate the weather just about year round (too hot! too humid! too cold! too all over the place! too much rain! not enough rain! AHHHH!). I hate the hills that pass for mountains. I hate the politics.

BUT, appaaaaarently, If you mock Atlanta’s lackluster response to a weather event and the ensuing shitshow, I will start spewing vitriol. I have been white knighting for my hometown all over the place this week. I have a bone to pick with the universe.

I can understand the impulse, and could even before I moved somewhere that people don’t make fun of when it snows (even though it barely snows any more here than it does in Atlanta, and my town is only marginally better prepared for the kind of weather event that nailed ATL yesterday). Yeah, southerners don’t know how to drive in the snow, and yes, they do actually flip out before anything even starts to accumulate. Yes, everyone would have been better off yesterday if the state and local governments had told everyone to stay home in the first place.

But imagine: you live somewhere that gets snow/ice on this scale only every few years at most. People certainly don’t have the first clue how to drive in it, that’s true – but they never EVER get to practice. I never once drove in snow or ice until I moved to WA, and you can bet your ass I skidded around the first time. I was lucky that there weren’t any cars around me at the time – that’s not a luxury that I’ve had often, in Atlanta. Certainly there were idiots who were going way too fast – I’d say most people can infer that they should slow down a bit, at least – but those idiots live everywhere, not just in Atlanta. Most people just didn’t have a feel for it at all, and small mistakes multiply in that kind of traffic.
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Also, have you been to Atlanta? The city is actually pretty hilly. And the roads are curvy – it’s not a grid, like Chicago. And there are a ton of overpasses on the highway system through the city, and the overpasses are inclined too – do a google image search for Spaghetti Junction. Also, there are a TON of trees in Atlanta, and sometimes you truly can’t see what’s coming around the bend. So you are going slower than usual, but maybe not slow enough, but you don’t know that – you’ve never driven in snow/ice before. BAM.
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Plus, ok. It was only two inches of snow! But the temps dropped quickly, and the roads were sort of warm, so the first bit melted and then froze – so it was a couple inches of snow on top of a layer of ice. That sounds super fun. Knowing what I do now, I definitely wouldn’t have driven in that, myself. But if I didn’t know, I might have decided to try, depending on the scenario – if I were at work, and Hazel were home, for instance. She… can’t go to bed without me. Like, she would stay up all night.

The snow fell midday – so people had already gone to work, it’s not like when you wake up and are faced with the prospect of driving TO work on shitty roads. People are a lot more likely to choose to stay home in the situation, because it’s more in their face, and they are AT home, not trying to get there.

So why didn’t places cancel ahead of time? Savannah did – they said school was cancelled today as early as Sunday or Monday, for example. And people – Savannahans included – laughed and laughed, but I bet they stopped once they saw what happened to Atlanta yesterday. Atlanta has cancelled based on weather forecasts in the past, and will in the future – but they catch a LOT of flack when they do that. Sometimes the weather doesn’t happen at all – I remember a day in college at UGA when there was no snow, and in fact it ended up being sunny and in the 60s. More often the weather does happen as forecast, and people still bitch and moan because “it was just an inch or two!”

All that complaining and joking – locally and nationally – has an actual effect. When ATL gets it wrong, by cancelling when they needn’t, or not cancelling when they should have, or even cancelling when they should – people bitch, and people joke, and it affects the politics. People talk about money and time lost in all of those situations. It affects the way officials handle the next situation. It’s like a pendulum, on some level – they didn’t cancel this time, so next time they will be overly cautious, and then people will bitch, and then they will be not cautious enough. From a decent blog post on why it’s hard:

How much money do you set aside for snowstorms when they’re as infrequent as they are? Who will run the show? (cities/counties/state) How will preparedness work? You could train everyone today, and then if the next storm hits in 2020 everyone you’ve trained might have moved on to different jobs, with Atlanta having a new mayor and Georgia having a new governor.

It ends up seriously biting ATL in the ass about once a decade, like this. I remember it happening in 2000 when I was in high school – a huge ice storm paralyzed the city for days, but it happened overnight so people got caught at home. I remember the “blizzard of ’93” when I was a kid. My mom tells me about when it happened in 1982, when she was pregnant with my brother, about to pop – my mom, who grew up in New England, and had lived in Georgia only a short while. She got caught on her way home from work – steep hill, ice and snow, no salt or plowing. She couldn’t drive any further, and ended up knocking on a stranger’s door and asking to stay overnight. It was a shitshow!

And after a shitshow, everyone has a solution. Atlanta should be more prepared! Buy Preparedness at The Preparedness Store, I guess? How should they be prepared? Which details matter? How should they pay for it? What ACTUAL PLAN would work, do you think, long term, not just for the past three days? Go on. I am all ears.

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Perhaps you should run for office!

Edited to add more posts of interest:
Why the south fell apart in the snow

But if you’re making light of the situation, or more realistically using it to reinforce your view of the South and the people in it as full of backwards blubberers, you are an asshole. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but things are different in places you do not personally live.

People being nice.

Then something amazing happened… More than 46,900 Atlantans (and counting) joined the Facebook group SnowedOutAtlanta, which was created to provide info and resources to those who needed help. A map was created so that people could add their homes and show where stranded motorists could get shelter and supplies.

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14 Responses to Snowpocalypse!

  1. Lauren says:

    This is spot-on. Like you, I grew up in Atlanta and now live elsewhere. Like you, I kinda loathe Atlanta now. But the know-it-all response that some folks have had to this storm is just ridiculous. I was literally brainstorming response ideas with my (Pittsburgh-native) husband this morning. Like, what about a trained volunteer corps of plow trucks. Put those huge pickup trucks and three-car garages to good use! But my husband pointed out that it’s not even the plowing that would help. The city doesn’t have the salt to treat the roads and the specialized trucks to spread the salt. He said Pennsylvania buys salt futures and has this mammoth system for getting enough salt at the best price, and they obviously have places to store the salt.

    Long story short, I don’t know HOW the city/state can better prepare for these uncommon snow and ice events. But jumping online making fun of Southerners helps no one.

  2. Becky says:

    My company has a business continuity plan for what to do in literally hundreds of types of emergencies. And employees move to different companies all the time. Yet we still have a plan that gets updated annually. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to expect a city to have plans for different types of contingencies that will affect millions of people. The fact that sometimes weather forecasts are wrong doesn’t excuse that for me.

    I think it’s wrong to criticize people in Atlanta for not driving well on ice. I don’t think it’s wrong to criticize a government for being unprepared for something that happens every ten years and affects millions of people.

  3. Becky says:

    I also think it’s rude to say that no one can criticize government unless they have the solution. I criticize decisions the federal government makes, but I don’t have my own 400-page tax plan written and ready to go.

    • snoozical says:

      I’m not saying that’s the only circumstance in which one can criticize the government. I’m saying broadly criticizing the city – government, inhabitants, everyone – implying that the whole mess is stupid – THAT is shitty. Laughing at the situation, with nothing useful to add. That is shitty.

    • snoozical says:

      And I DO wish the state and local government did a better job, absolutely. But my point is that getting there, to the point where that is actually happening? Not simple AT ALL.

      • Becky says:

        Those are totally fair points. I think the reason I even commented on your post was that I had a visceral reaction to your photo, like Oh really? You want to patronize me? Feel the wrath of my Important Comment about Business Continuity Plans. Aw yeah.

        Heh.

  4. Jessica says:

    As someone that grew up in the north east and drove home in that yesterday, thank you. I was very lucky that it only took me two hours to get home. The last five miles cars were in ditches and I was lucky that no one hit me and I didn’t hit them. If I would have known it was going to turn to ice half way through my drive I would have hunkered down at work and not left. People are very judgmental, but we all make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the time.

  5. Pseudostoops says:

    Becky, I don’t think anyone thinks that government handled this perfectly, or that it has no responsibility to try to think about low-probability-but-high-potential-for-disaster events. It seems like you’re presuming that Georgia didn’t have a plan, or had never thought of this potential problem. Seems more likely that whatever decision-making mechanism they had for this situation didn’t work, not that it had literally never occurred to them.

    But Susie and Lauren make fair points that I hadn’t fully considered about why alternatives that initially seemed obvious to me (have some salt on hand!) may not be as easy as I assumed. It seems fair to ask what would the alternative look like, as we criticize the government response. Of course a citizen need not have a spiral-bound four point plan at the ready in order to criticize government, but it’s not clear to me why it’s rude to point out that some of the blithe “government should have been prepared” -type comments may fail to account for the complexity of the situation.

  6. PinkieBling says:

    I agree completely; I really don’t understand the impulse to poke fun at these situations. I can understand the residents of that particular city being angry, but why do the rest of us need to mock them? You stated it very well; it’s difficult and expensive and plain unrealistic to keep constant vigilance against every possible scenario. You do the best you can, and you prepare the most against the types of things that happen often (like snow storms here in Utah), and spend less attention and energy and money preparing against the things that don’t (like the freak tornado that hit SLC in 1999). Regardless of who was right and wrong in the situation, many people suffered and are suffering in Atlanta. Shouldn’t our first impulse be compassion, and our second, to learn from what happened if we can? Even though I live where it snows, I don’t have a survival kit in my car. You can bet what happened in Atlanta has me pricing them on Amazon. That goes toward personal responsibility and preparedness, and I’m certainly never against those; on the other hand, I don’t expect Utah’s state budget to accommodate the same level of tornado preparedness as, say, Kansas’, nor am I building a tornado shelter in the yard.

  7. kathleenicanrah says:

    lady, PREACH.
    As an Atlantan who luckily works from home with a husband who does the same, I’ve been quiet on twitter/social media as I’m too busy being grateful that we are warm and safe.

  8. Jenn says:

    Thank you. I don’t get the urge to smugly laugh and mock Southerners in winter. I don’t deride those in Chicago who die during a heat wave. I just assume they might not all have AC. Where’s the compassion? Ick.

  9. Lacey says:

    Yes, yes, yes. To all of it. I get all blood-boiling, up-in-arms, don’t-talk-about-my-fellow-southerners-y every time something like this happens. I just hate the ‘southerners are stupid’ rhetoric that comes along with every occurrence and constantly feeling like I have to defend my section of the country.

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