Traffic apocalypse: Snow in the southeast leaves commuters, schoolkids stranded all day on the roads

posted at 11:21 am on January 29, 2014 by Allahpundit

And by “all day,” I mean 18 hours or more. Some people were out there overnight. The lucky ones were close enough to a Home Depot or supermarket that they simply pulled over, walked to the store, and slept in the aisles.

As Chris Hayes said, it’s not every day you see a headline in a major paper with the words “unspeakably horrible” in it.

Gridlock on the interstates this morning continues to frustrate drivers still trying to get home on a commute that started Tuesday

Students remain stranded at schools, as commuters lucky enough to make their way to makeshift shelters begin waking up in churches, fire houses and stores that remained open all night to provide a warm place to stay as temperatures plummeted into the teens…

“It’s a horrible, horrible, horrible situation for people who are stuck out there,” said Barron, her eyes filling with tears. “I sit there and think about the mothers whose children are stuck in school buses… But people need to understand our folks are working as tedious as they can. This is a really hard situation for everybody.”…

A single dump truck can treat about 2.5 miles of one lane of pavement, according to Barron. Each time the trucks are stopping to reload (a process which takes 30 to 45 minutes not taking into account long traffic delays) they are returning to find that areas they just treated are refreezing.

The immediate problem according to the AJC is 18-wheelers struggling to get traction on the icy roads, especially roads with inclines. The deeper problem is a lack of planning: Not only do many southeastern cities not spend big bucks on snow management for obvious reasons (although Atlanta had promised to be better prepared next time after an ice storm three years ago), but Atlanta apparently made a key mistake in not closing down schools and other government offices once the forecast called for snow. This guy at MetaFilter, whose comment was also flagged by Hayes, says that the city government didn’t decide to call it a day until the snow was already falling. Everyone ended up on the roads at the same time, producing the bottleneck from hell, and the paralysis on the roads meant that cars weren’t moving fast enough to burn off the snow that had already accumulated through simple friction. And of course, the traffic’s compounded by city vehicles belatedly trying to salt the roads or, in some extreme cases, rescue people. If you can believe it, there were reportedly still 50 or so kids in Atlanta trapped on their buses early this morning after leaving school yesterday shortly after noon to beat the snow.

If you’re a kid and you’re stuck with friends someplace warm with food and bathrooms, like at school, this might be a fond memory someday. If you’re anyone else, wilting behind the wheel in the cold at 3 a.m. with no food or toilet or sleeping on the floor at CVS after abandoning your car, it’ll be … not so fond. Any HA readers who were lost in the gridlock wilderness last night are invited to share their stories in the comments. Exit quotation from Atlanta’s mayor, tweeting before the storm hit: “Atlanta, we are ready for the snow.”

Update: Good lord. From the comments:

My wife left work at 3pm yesterday afternoon,15 miles, still not home! Gas stations ran out of gas, hills impossible to climb. They did not pre-treat the roads which iced over almost immediately.Everyone hit the roads at the same time.Average commute is 30 miles. Nightmare.

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No Schadenfreude

Bmore on January 29, 2014 at 10:19 PM

Almost over.

Bmore on January 29, 2014 at 10:20 PM

This is nothing. Back in the winter of ’77-’78, there was so much snow in Massachusetts, you couldn’t see the tops of most of the cars, and some people spent a week in their cars before they were rescued.


woodcdi on January 29, 2014 at 10:45 PM

It’s not easy to teach people to drive on icy roads where it practically never happens.

viking01 on January 29, 2014 at 11:31 PM

…can’t believe people can’t drive in this stuff!…do they all have bald tires!

KOOLAID2 on January 29, 2014 at 9:08 PM

Repeat after me: It’s ice. It’s not patches of ice, it’s sheets of ice that stretch for miles and miles, often up and down hill with no traction to be found anywhere.

Got it now?

Wendya on January 30, 2014 at 12:35 AM

woodcdi on January 29, 2014 at 10:45 PM

The Blizzard of ’78… I was a freshman at Boston College. We were stuck in the dorms for a week — meals were rationed toward the end of the week because food couldn’t get to campus. Industrious BC students got a hold of sleds and toboggans and hoofed it nearly a mile to load up the beer and whatever else was in stock at Murray’s Liquors in Newton Centre… a lot of us were picked up by ambulances and national guard vehicles to go give blood (sans alcohol!). It was really something.

I feel for these people because these conditions are so foreign to them and anyone who has been on an icy road and watched people go sailing across the highway right off the road knows that it doesn’t take a foot of snow to screw things up… just a little ice and packed snow can really screw things up. And with a dearth of snow removal/sand/salt equipment and/or planning, it’s an inevitable crap sandwich.

dpduq on January 30, 2014 at 12:42 AM

The smartest thing that could have happened (ironically) has to do with our education system.
Instead of canceling school for the day they opened business as usual*. When it started to get dicey school closed early and parents were told to pick their children up around 2pm; which created an instant traffic jam.
Adding to that Atlanta sees a huge volume of vehicles daily with 3 major thoroughfares feeding a large perimeter highway with tractor trailers. Some of those highways were shut down.
Mix that with the speed that the conditions formed and add the following factors.
Because of the rarity of snow & ice Georgia doesn’t have an substantial winter weather budget.
Average Georgians do no have snow tires, studs, chains, 4×4’s, or plows.
People from all over the country, with various driving skills, were mixed into the jam.
Yup! Even people with experience wiped out.

*Because of Atlanta’s topography Weather reports were only 50-70% sure that the snow would stick, if at all. Conditions changed around 1pm.

kregg on January 30, 2014 at 6:21 AM

I know a lot of this is not funny. Kids trapped in school buses overnight is most definitely not funny. Parents unable to get to their kids, also not funny. Traffic accidents, not funny. People sleeping in strange places, not funny. The road conditions were not funny at all. Etc.

But darn it. This Michigan gal wants someone, somewhere, to make a spoof video of Georgians looking out their office windows at innocuous white snowflakes and hitting the mass panic button, running for their cars, weeping and screaming that they have to get home NOW. There’s going to be two inches of snow!!!!

I’m sorry. That’s kinda funny.

Grace_is_sufficient on January 30, 2014 at 8:27 AM

I work in Birmingham, and commute sixty miles. I drove through, and around, and over, and made it home in slightly over nine hours. I helped when I could, but there wasn’t much to do. I lived in Alaska a couple of years so I’m familiar with ice, but very few here are. This is just the way it is and the way it’s gonna be.

Don’t laugh at us too much. K?

Squiggy on January 30, 2014 at 8:35 AM

Grace_is_sufficient on January 30, 2014 at 8:27 AM

liked you post, interesting the differences in area, up north the mode of transportation changes from automobile to snowmobiles and ski’s

RonK on January 30, 2014 at 8:51 AM

We go through this same kind of thing for at least 4 months. We’ve been dealing with ice on roads for the whole winter. It seems as if the jet stream has left us out in the cold but dry this year although the white stuff has been falling for 2 days and we did plow the driveway yesterday. I feel for the kids but this is what happens when people leave their safety and decision making up to the govt.

Kissmygrits on January 30, 2014 at 9:07 AM

interesting the differences in area, up north the mode of transportation changes from automobile to snowmobiles and ski’s
RonK on January 30, 2014 at 8:51 AM

It would take a helluva lot more than two inches of snow for northern folks to need to resort to such for transportation. Besides only a moron would try to ski or snowmobile on 2 inches of snow.

But we do go surfing!

whatcat on January 30, 2014 at 9:49 AM

But people need to understand our folks are working as tedious as they can.

Does the spokesperson have any idea what “tedious” means?

krome on January 30, 2014 at 11:19 AM

The thaw has begun. The Idiots are out in full force. Just had to winch one out of the embankment. Cali boy. Folks need to slow their asses down! It ain’t thawed out everywhere!

Bmore on January 30, 2014 at 12:02 PM

Bmore on January 30, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Grace_is_sufficient on January 30, 2014 at 8:27 AM

I hear ya, Grace. Me, too.

cheeflo on January 30, 2014 at 5:39 PM

But people need to understand our folks are working as tedious as they can.

Does the spokesperson have any idea what “tedious” means?

krome on January 30, 2014 at 11:19 AM

They probably meant “delirious.”
Since he or she probably last slept on Monday I might cut some slack.

viking01 on January 30, 2014 at 6:05 PM