marietta snowmageddon 2013 traffic

It’s been three days since snow started falling in metro Atlanta, and it’s taken me that long to figure out how to write about it. Yes, Northerners, we only had about 2-3 inches of snow (it was more like 3.5″ where I live) to fall in the Metro area. I get it. I’m from Arkansas. We got that kind of weather all of the time when I was growing up in the Ozarks, and I don’t remember it paralyzing much of anything, except the liquor stores that had to provide beer to all of the college kids. But, yes, it is different here.  Let me explain.

There are close to 6 million people in the the Metro area of Atlanta. Atlanta city, itself, only has about half a million people in it’s borders. But, when people say Atlanta, they generally are talking about the area as a whole. The average commute time here in the Metro is anywhere between 30-50 minutes (depending on what study you are reading). Oh yeah, that’s just one way. Double that for the time that we Atlantans, sit in our cars on a daily basis to get to our offices. We also have more counties than any other state except Texas, and almost 30 of them comprise the Metro area. Why does any of this matter? Well…

When I went to bed on Monday night, we had been downgraded to a Winter Weather Advisory with the anticipation of no more than .05-1 inch of snow. On Tuesday morning, I woke up at 4am due to a killer headache, and I was really hoping to have a snow day. I checked my trusty phone to see what our snow chances were. I was really surprised to see that over just a few hours, we had been upgraded to warning, and the expected amounts in my area were to be 2-3 inches. So, of course, I checked all of the local closings. Not only was my university not on there, but neither were any of the surrounding counties. After living here in 1993 and in 2011, when snow shut the entire metro area down for a week each time, I figured maybe there was something I was missing.

A few hours later, I got ready for work and checked the weather again. The weather prognosticators said, very clearly, by 10:30am we would see some snow coming down, and by 2:30pm, we would have close to 1.5 inches on the ground. Before I left, I told my husband to work from home that day. He has a much longer and further commute than I do, crosses 3 bridges, and travels on really steep and winding roads to get to his office. Surprisingly, with no argument, he agreed. I should have taken that as a sign. I even asked him if I should wear my trusty Converse Chucks or my Duck Boots. He laughed and told me the boots…’cause you just never know.

I went on and traveled to work without any incident. It started flurrying around the time I walked into my office, but it was no big deal. At 10:45am, my co-worker got a call from her mother who lives 30 minutes north of the school. She let us know that the snow was falling in earnest, and begged my co-worker (and friend) to come home. We both said that we couldn’t leave since they hadn’t called off school, and she explained that she needed to stay. During the 10:30-11:30am hour, both Cobb and Cherokee counties called for a two hour early dismissal of their school children. By 11:15am, the snow had started to fall a little in Marietta, where my university is located. By 11:30am, we were told that the campus was closing at noon, and for everyone to get home. This is about the time it all fell apart.

Atlanta Traffic Progression Snowmageddon 2014 snowjam

From Matthew Sitkowsky (@MattSitkowski) via Twitter. The progression of traffic conditions in Atlanta (times Eastern).

See that above progression? This is what hell looks like due to poor planning. You see those highways? That’s the Metro part of Atlanta. This is why the media has deemed this SnowJam 2014. It took approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes for the entire city to come to a complete and total stand still. Why? All of the north Metro counties (and there are about 10 counties in that area) dismissed their schools at the same time that businesses let their employees go home. This would be bad idea on a good day, but then add the two inch sheet of ice that had formed due to the heat from the cars melting the snow, and it became a chaotic nightmare.

snowmageddon traffic atlanta snowjam 2014

The picture on the left was taken just outside the Marietta Square at 12:20pm during SnowJam 2014 on Tuesday, January 28. Little did I know that I would only be about 4 miles away (picture on the right) 3 hours later. Note: what you see that isn’t white on the ground is sheets of ice being made by the cars melting the snow, and it refreezing into ice.

I was on the road by 12:08am. I never once took an interstate (can you see why?). When I turned out of my school, the traffic looked like a normal rush hour. So, I started cutting back off of the main streets. I put my SUV in 4×4 mode, and I took back roads, side streets, and cut throughs I hadn’t used in years. I started to get stuck. Not because of the ice, but because of the traffic. More side streets and back roads. At this point, even in 4×4 mode, I was sliding everywhere. As my Uncle Randy says, 4×4 will get you started, but it won’t help you stop. During all of this, I was staying in very close contact with two of my very good friends from my office. They were both stuck due to the traffic.

All in all, it took me 5 hours, more back roads than I can think of, countless cussing tirades, and a half a tank of gas to travel 10 miles. I was starving and cranky when I got home. I thought, gosh, this sucks. I had no idea what was to come for everyone else still on the roads. My travel problems were nothing compared to the SnowJam that was happening all over the city.

Wanna know more? Check out SnowJam 2014–Part 2.


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