snowjam 2014 atlanta traffic

SnowJam 2014–Part 2

As you read in the last post–SnowJam 2014 Part 1–I was stuck in the ridiculous traffic that was SnowJam 2014 in Atlanta. Well, sort of. You see, it only took me about five hours to get home. I was one of the lucky ones. I walked in my front door right before the sun set, into my warm house, family, and food waiting on me. Others weren’t so lucky.

After sitting in traffic for 4.5 hours and only traveling about 3 miles north of our campus, one of my co-workers ended up parking her car in a parking lot on Hwy 41 in Marietta because she couldn’t get traction on the ice. She walked for 2 hours north in 20 degree weather in tennis shoes and a jacket until her brother could come and get her. Once they were reunited, they had to go and pick up another family member who was stranded. They ended up getting home 12 hours after she left campus.

Another co-worker abandoned her car in a parking lot after 5 hours, due to unsafe driving conditions, about 3 miles away from campus. Her phone died as she was texting me. Luckily, she was able to go to our local neighborhood pub and hang out. She met a kind stranger who took her through the ice and snow up about 17 miles north of campus to where she lives. She also got home 12 hours after she left campus.

There were others, so very many others, that were stuck. They were simply stuck out there in the cold on the roads. Highways, interstates, and backroads were gridlocked, and the people were many miles away from home.

snowjam 2014 traffic atlanta

From the Facebook page SnowedOutAtlanta. This was Interstate 400N at 1am on Wednesday morning. Good Samaritans were going out to find people who need medical care, to give others food, water, and gasoline.

My sister-in-law was stuck at the interchange of I285 and I75 for over 20 hours. She relied on the kindness of strangers to give her water and food. She got home 27 hours after she left work. There were children that were stuck on school buses trying to get home. My friends who walked miles and miles to get their children stranded at school and stayed at the school with their child because it was too dark and cold to make the return walk. The mother who gave birth to a baby girl named Grace on I285. The woman who was 8 months pregnant  with her 3 year old in the car and started to have contractions. There were thousands either stuck on the road or had abandoned their cars because they could go no further.

But, we are Southerners, and we are known for our hospitality. A Facebook group quickly showed the world what being Southern really means. A British woman in Marietta, Michelle Sollicito, got home early, saw a need, and quickly decided to start the Facebook group SnowedOutAtlanta. By the end of the day on Tuesday, there were 44,000 members in this Facebook group that had been created just hours before. It became the best place to disseminate information, find what stores, churches, hotels, schools, and restaurants were still open, and find people who were in need of medical attention or supplies. Strangers were listing their phone numbers and telling people to call or private message them if they needed a place to stay. Strangers were getting others off the roads and letting them into their homes. By the next morning there was a concentrated effort by people with 4×4’s to get those stranded home. Those who were still stuck on the interstates were seeing people like the “Hot Chocolate Hunks” and others coming around with food, water, medical supplies like insulin, gasoline, jumper cables, and blankets. All bought with their own money, and never asking for anything in return. That amount of generosity is humbling. It wasn’t just one town or one county that this happened in, but all over the Metro area. Southern hospitality has a whole new meaning, now.

snowjam 2014 traffic good samaritan

The Hot Chocolate Hunks on I285 on Wednesday, January 29. SnowJam 2014. Pic via SnowedOutAtlanta.

Slowly, the Metro area is getting back to normal. By the end of the day on Wednesday, many people had made it back home, and today most people were able to get out to retrieve their abandoned vehicles.  Schools have been closed for another day to get the ice to fully melt off the back roads and in the subdivisions. This weekend it is supposed to be in the mid-60’s, and Southern life will return to a more normal pace.

I have always been proud to be from the South, for all of it’s faults and oddities. Sometimes, we seem to live in our history a bit too much, and often we are thought of as backwater and ignorant. But this, what happened in Atlanta over the last few days, should be an example of what being Southern is really about. It’s not hoop skirts and football. It’s coming together and helping each other. It wasn’t about race or religion this time, and Lord knows, those are hot topics down here. This was about a city of 6 million people wanting to make sure their fellow Southerner was okay. I don’t know that I’ve ever been any prouder of my fellow Southerners. I’m humbled, overwhelmed, and amazed at what this city was able to accomplish when we came together. Who knew?

marietta snowmageddon 2013 traffic

SnowJam 2014–Part 1

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.