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

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.