Georgia Winter Chaos was Entirely Preventable

Megan R.
Staff Writer

On Tuesday, January 28th 2014, winter storm Leon devastated Georgia, leaving thousands stranded on roads or in schools. The public was shocked when temperatures dropped from 60˚ to 20˚ overnight, and a mere three inches of snow paralyzed the state. The blame for this event bounced from meteorologists to school administrators to local politicians.
When asked what he had to say to his constituents about Tuesday’s events, Governor Nathan Deal responded, “I apologize to them for the fact that they are in the situation that has occurred. If it was based on my decisions, yes, I apologize for that. Will we try to make better decisions based on the knowledge we gain from this? Yes, we will. But we can never promise because it would be an unrealistic promise, that we will always be correct when it comes to deciding what Mother Nature is going to do. Because she has a mind of her own.”
Northern states were puzzled at how a mere three inches of snow could cause so much chaos in one day. Part of the problem is that both Governor Deal and Atlanta mayor Kassim Reed were at an awards lunch while Atlanta roads were gridlocked, CBS Atlanta News reported on January 30th. Deal used a plethora of excuses for his lack of attention to his constituents. He claimed that he had referred to the National Weather Service, which was less accurate than local weather stations. Late Tuesday afternoon he also stated, “We have been confronted with an unexpected winter storm that has hit the metropolitan Atlanta area.” This is the story that many Georgians have adopted: that winter storm Leon came out of nowhere; however, several meteorologists beg to differ.
At 3:15 pm on Sunday, January 26th, two days before the event, the National Weather Service released a winter storm briefing to all of its government and media partners, including The Weather Channel and Accuweather. This document explained that the low pressure system from the Gulf, which would bring precipitation, combined with the already chilly air, would result in a wintry mix (“freezing rain, sleet and snow”) across northern and central Georgia on Tuesday and into Wednesday. It also correctly predicted two or more inches of snow, at least 1/4 inch of ice, and the freezing conditions that would develop Tuesday night, preventing anything from thawing until late Wednesday afternoon. As if this is not enough, the National Weather Service reported, “Confidence: Winter Weather Event: High.” Here the same weather service that Governor Deal was supposedly watching claimed a high confidence in the winter weather event described above. Ten similar reports, warnings, and tweets were released by the National Weather Service before snow even began to fall on Tuesday morning.
As headlines like “Rare Snow Storm” and “Winter Storm Shocks South” filled national media, it must be pointed out that this event is not rare at all in Georgia. Although the past two years’ winters have brought little more than chilly weather and rain, the Snow Storm of 2011 was strangely reminiscent of this one. Occurring the second week of January, this storm was also “unexpected.” A low pressure system from around the Gulf brought moisture into the chilly climate of Georgia resulting in up to 8.5 inches of snow and 0.5 inches of ice. However, weather reports are not the only attribute these two storms share. It just so happens that Kassim Reed was the mayor of Atlanta at this time. According to NBC News, “Mayor Kassim Reed said the next time a storm threatens, he will recruit more private contractors to supplement Atlanta’s meager fleet of 10 snowplows, and he will put them to work sooner. He also said he won’t wait for the state to clear main arteries within the city limits.” Senator Vincent Fort admits that they knew this was coming well before the event actually happened and claimed that he would “push the mayor’s office to draft better emergency plans.” Well, the “next time” came and nothing seems to have changed.
Snow storms are not as common in Georgia as in Maine, but they are not rare occurrences either. After three massive winter storms in the past twenty five years, why does Georgia not have the supplies or emergency plan necessary? The reports from the National Weather Service contradict everything Governor Deal said about the winter storm. It appears that most everything, from his ‘apology’ to his explanation for the chaos, was a misrepresentation of the truth.

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