I grew up in cities like Syracuse, NY, Pittsburgh, PA and Cleveland, OH.  I learned to drive in Cleveland in January.  I know how to drive in wintery weather.

Now, part of that ability to drive was partially contingent on the snow removal equipment of those cities.  They got lots of snow and had the plows and salt to deal with it.  Even with that, though, sometimes you still wouldn’t see the lines on some major roads in Cleveland for a couple of months.  In some years, the plows kept the mounds of snow off to the side and the streets level, but the only lanes were those made by the tire tracks of previous travellers, so it wasn’t always asphalt you were driving on.  You had to learn how to navigate in the snow.

But driving on snow and driving on ice are quite different, and driving on ice requires quite a bit more care.  If the roads were snowy, and the temps low, you could generally get around up north.  Still, snow tires were always a good idea.  If the roads were icy, snow tires or not, you had a decision to make; stay home or brave the ice.

I say "up north" because nowadays I’m down south.  This past weekend, the weather folks knew that the perfect snowstorm was coming our way.  A low pressure system was throwing moisture up our way, and frigid temps were coming down from the north, and, depending on where you were, you could get 7 inches of snow (extreme northeast Georgia).  In the metro Atlanta area, the Sunday afternoon before it hit they were predicting 2 to 3 inches.  At 9pm, on cue where we were, the flakes started coming down.

One hour later, by 10pm, we had those 3 inches already, and the snow continued to come.  Three inches an hour is serious even by northern standards.  By the morning, we measured the snow on my deck at 5 inches.  And later that morning, sleet put a nice crust on the snow.  And the streets.

Now, up north, the trucks would’ve been out in force and things might have returned to almost normal.  But down here, there are a few things working against a quick return to normal.

Plow and salt trucks are very expensive to maintain.  A huge majority of that money would be wasted if the city of Atlanta had the same size fleet as Pittsburgh or Syracuse.  Thus, for something that used to happen once every 5 years (according to native Atlantans), it made no fiscal sense. 

The temperatures down here don’t stay significantly below freezing for any length of time.  Two things come from this.  First, the snow and ice usually melt away pretty quickly, so after one day or so it’s typically all gone anyway.  But if it’s not gone, the temps will stay close to freezing and thus melt during the day and freeze during the night, turning the streets into ice rinks.  And like I said, even northerners rightly think twice about driving on that.

And you typically can’t buy snow tires for any price down here.  Tire stores have no reason to take up warehouse space with them.

So generally, it takes a much smaller amount of snow down here to shut the city down than it does up north.  This particular snowstorm has been particularly tough for a few reasons.  In addition to the speed at which the snow fell, and thus putting our ‘fleet’ of snow removal equipment at an immediate disadvantage, there was a layer of warm air in the upper atmosphere that developed and gave us the morning sleet, coating snowy roads and making travel extremely dangerous.  Cars have mostly stayed off the road, but trucks have had to continue, and the number and locations of so many jack-knifed 18-wheelers have essentially shut down interstate 285, the circle around Atlanta.  At one point yesterday, I-285 from about the 3 o’clock position to the 8 o’clock had half a dozen problems, many of them shutting down the highway in one direction or the other.  Trucks who’s destination is not inside 285 are normally required to take 285 around the city.  Today, they’re telling everyone to stay off 285 because it’s such a parking lot, and allowing trucks through the city.

And of course, not a snow tire to be had, so people will stay off the roads.  Salt and sand on the roads get the clearing started, but actually, traffic over those roads help those elements do their job.  But there is precious little traffic out there because we have neither the properly equipped cars, nor (in the case of many native Atlantans) the skill to navigate the roads.  And those of us who can navigate would rather not be out there anyway.

Compounding this is the fact that, between now and Saturday, the number of hours that the temperature will be above freezing can be counted on two hands, and overcast skies will keep the Sun from helping out today.  We’re stuck with this situation, in one form or another, until the weekend.

Needless to say, the local TV stations been plastered with weather and traffic news.  The news of the recent apparent assassination attempt on a US Congresswoman has only barely peeked through that.  The usual busy roadways are virtually silent at rush hour.  We’ve been getting the most out of our first free month of streaming movies on Netflix. 

And so please understand the tweet by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday editor when he wrote, "Dear northern transplants, we don’t care how much snow y’all got back home. 5" is a lot for here. Love, Atlanta."  I’ll admit, I had a bit of that attitude when I first moved here.  I understand it now.

Oh, and by the way.  Just today, our company president, based in Boston, sent out a warning to employees in the northeast US that they may want to work from home tomorrow.  They’ll be getting twenty inches and wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour.  Hey, there are storms that even Boston folks stay home for.

Filed under: Doug

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