Georgia’s Snow Debacle 2014!

What happened? Why It Happened? Can it happen Again?

By Holly Yan and Joe Sterling CNN | 1/31/2014, 9:25 a.m.
The finger-pointing began almost immediately -- and two days after Winter Storm Leon left the region, it’s still going on.
Aerial view of I-75 North near Moores Mill RD. Many motorists abandoned their vehicles along the interstates and roads in metro Atlanta during the snow storm and either walked home or to the nearest place for shelter. (Photo by David Tulis/AP).

The finger-pointing began almost immediately -- and two days after Winter Storm Leon left the region, it’s still going on.

A mere few inches of snow had shut down metro Atlanta, forcing children to spend the night at schools, stranding drivers on interstates and making the city a laughingstock to the country.

Why did this happen? Who’s to blame?

And, more importantly, could this happen elsewhere?


Unlike Boston and New York, with their long-established infrastructures and diverse mass transit systems, Atlanta resembles the new American city.

It’s not just a city but also a region; a metro area that claims its outlying suburbs as its own -- as do Orlando and Dallas and Charlotte. It spans 28 counties sprawled over an area the size of Massachusetts.

On Tuesday, a rare weather phenomenon mixed with poor planning and an overdependence on cars conspired to create a perfect storm.

What can other cities learn from Atlanta’s debacle?

Let’s comb through the claims and realities:

CLAIM: This fiasco could have been avoided if Atlanta had a mass transit system like Boston’s or Chicago’s

Both Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal put much of the blame on the fact that everyone -- government, businesses and schools -- all tried to go home at the same time, clogging highways for hours.

“I said immediately yesterday that releasing all of these folks was not the right way to go,” Reed said Wednesday. “If I had my druthers, we would have staggered the closures.”

REALITY: Yes, it could have

But the problem highlights how Atlanta and cities like it depend almost exclusively on cars. Atlanta does have a commuter train system, but it doesn’t serve the whole metro area.

While the city has a population of 1 million, the metro area’s population is 6 million.

And when offices and schools let out Tuesday, the masses got into their cars to head to the suburbs. An expansive public transportation system would have undoubtedly alleviated some of the ensuing traffic stress.

It would have also helped if the leaders in the private sectors made wiser decisions about whether or not to open on Tuesday. As far as we can determine it was just another regular day and decision to go close early was made as the storm hit and not before hand.

This week’s debacle is also disturbing because if another catastrophe were to hit and roads were the only path out, Atlanta would be in the same situation again.

While a recent poll shows that many in the metro Atlanta area support expanded mass transit, the city hasn’t figured out a way to pay for it.

When MARTA was formed back in the 1970s, only Fulton and DeKalb counties voted to approve a one cent sales tax to support the system. Other surrounding metro counties like Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton and Douglas voted against the tax because of a fear that it would speed up the migration of African Americans from the inner city into those predominantly white counties.